Tag Archives: employer-sponsored health insurance

Summary of Senate Republicans’ Obamacare Legislation

A PDF copy of this analysis can be found here.

On June 22, Senate leadership released a discussion draft of their Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. A detailed summary of the bill is below, along with possible conservative concerns where applicable. Where provisions in the bill were also included in the reconciliation bill passed by Congress early in 2016 (H.R. 3762, text available here), differences between the two versions, if any, are noted.

Of particular note: It is unclear whether this legislative language has been fully vetted with the Senate Parliamentarian. When the Senate considers budget reconciliation legislation—as it plans to do with the Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Parliamentarian advises whether provisions are budgetary in nature and can be included in the bill (which can pass with a 51-vote simple majority), and which provisions are not budgetary in nature and must be considered separately (i.e., require 60 votes to pass).

In the absence of a complete bill and CBO score, it is entirely possible the Parliamentarian has not fully vetted this draft—which means provisions could change substantially, or even get stricken from the bill, due to procedural concerns as the process moves forward.

Title I

Revisions to Obamacare Subsidies:             Modifies eligibility thresholds for the current regime of Obamacare subsidies. Under current law, households with incomes of between 100-400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL, $24,600 for a family of four in 2017) qualify for subsidies. This provision would change eligibility to include all households with income under 350% FPL—effectively eliminating the Medicaid “coverage gap,” whereby low-income individuals (those with incomes under 100% FPL) in states that did not expand Medicaid do not qualify for subsidized insurance.

Clarifies the definition of eligibility by substituting “qualified alien” for the current-law term “an alien lawfully present in the United States” with respect to the five-year waiting period for said aliens to receive taxpayer-funded benefits, per the welfare reform law enacted in 1996.

Changes the bidding structure for insurance subsidies. Under current law, subsidy amounts are based on the second-lowest silver plan bid in a given area—with silver plans based upon an actuarial value (the average percentage of annual health expenses covered) of 70 percent. This provision would base subsidies upon the “median cost benchmark plan,” which would be based upon an average actuarial value of 58 percent.

Modifies the existing Obamacare subsidy regime, by including age as an additional factor for determining subsidy amounts. Younger individuals would have to spend a smaller percentage of income on health insurance than under current law, while older individuals would spend a higher percentage of income. For instance, an individual under age 29, making just under 350% FPL, would pay 6.4% of income on health insurance, whereas an individual between ages 60-64 at the same income level would pay 16.2% of income on health insurance. (Current law limits individuals to paying 9.69% of income on insurance, at all age brackets, for those with income just below 400% FPL.)

Lowers the “failsafe” at which secondary indexing provisions under Obamacare would apply. Under current law, if total spending on premium subsidies exceeds 0.504% of gross domestic product annually in years after 2018, the premium subsidies would grow more slowly. (Additional information available here, and a Congressional Budget Office analysis available here.) This provision would reduce the overall cap at which the “failsafe” would apply to 0.4% of GDP.

Eliminates the so-called “family glitch,” which renders members of a worker’s family ineligible for insurance subsidies if the worker qualifies for “affordable” employer-sponsored health insurance, regardless of whether or not said coverage applies to a worker’s family. (Additional information available here.) Also modifies definitions regarding eligibility for subsidies for employees participating in small businesses’ health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

Increases penalties on erroneous claims of the credit from 20 percent to 25 percent. Applies most of the above changes beginning in calendar year 2020.

Beginning in 2018, changes the definition of a qualified health plan, to prohibit plans from covering abortion other than in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Some conservatives may be concerned that this provision may eventually be eliminated under the provisions of the Senate’s “Byrd rule,” therefore continuing taxpayer funding of plans that cover abortion. (For more information, see these two articles.)

Eliminates provisions that limit repayment of subsidies for years after 2017. Subsidy eligibility is based upon estimated income, with recipients required to reconcile their subsidies received with actual income during the year-end tax filing process. Current law limits the amount of excess subsidies households with incomes under 400% FPL must pay. This provision would eliminate that limitation on repayments, which may result in fewer individuals taking up subsidies in the first place.

Some conservatives may be concerned first that, rather than repealing Obamacare, these provisions actually expand Obamacare—for instance, extending subsidies to some individuals currently not eligible, and fixing the so-called “family glitch.” Some conservatives may also be concerned that, as with Obamacare, these provisions will create disincentives to work that would reduce the labor supply by the equivalent of millions of jobs. Finally, as noted above, some conservatives may believe that, as with Obamacare itself, enacting these policy changes through the budget reconciliation process will prevent the inclusion of strong pro-life protections, thus ensuring continued taxpayer funding of plans that cover abortion.

Small Business Tax Credit:             Repeals Obamacare’s small business tax credit, effective in 2020. Disallows the small business tax credit beginning in 2018 for any plan that offers coverage of abortion, except in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother—which, as noted above, some conservatives may believe will be stricken during the Senate’s “Byrd rule” review. This language is substantially similar to Section 203 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, with the exception of the new pro-life language.

Individual and Employer Mandates:             Sets the individual and employer mandate penalties to zero, for all years after December 31, 2015. This language is similar to Sections 204 and 205 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Stability Funds:        Creates two stability funds intended to stabilize insurance markets—the first giving funds directly to insurers, and the second giving funds to states. The first would appropriate $15 billion each for 2018 and 2019, and $10 billion each for 2020 and 2021, ($50 billion total) to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to “fund arrangements with health insurance issuers to address coverage and access disruption and respond to urgent health care needs within States.” Instructs the CMS Administrator to “determine an appropriate procedure for providing and distributing funds.” Does not require a state match for receipt of stability funds.

Creates a longer term stability fund with a total of $62 billion in federal funding—$8 billion in 2019, $14 billion in 2020 and 2021, $6 billion in 2022 and 2023, $5 billion in 2024 and 2025, and $4 billion in 2026. Requires a state match beginning in 2022—7 percent that year, followed by 14 percent in 2023, 21 percent in 2024, 28 percent in 2025, and 35 percent in 2026. Allows the Administrator to determine each state’s allotment from the fund; states could keep their allotments for two years, but unspent funds after that point could be re-allocated to other states.

Long-term fund dollars could be used to provide financial assistance to high-risk individuals, including by reducing premium costs, “help stabilize premiums and promote state health insurance market participation and choice,” provide payments to health care providers, or reduce cost-sharing. However, all of the $50 billion in short-term stability funds—and $15 billion of the long-term funds ($5 billion each in 2019, 2020, and 2021)—must be used to stabilize premiums and insurance markets. The short-term stability fund requires applications from insurers; the long-term stability fund would require a one-time application from states.

Both stability funds are placed within Title XXI of the Social Security Act, which governs the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). While SCHIP has a statutory prohibition on the use of federal funds to pay for abortion in state SCHIP programs, it is unclear at best whether this restriction would provide sufficient pro-life protections to ensure that Obamacare plans do not provide coverage of abortion. It is unclear whether and how federal reinsurance funds provided after-the-fact (i.e., covering some high-cost claims that already occurred) can prospectively prevent coverage of abortions.

Some conservatives may be concerned first that the stability funds would amount to over $100 billion in corporate welfare payments to insurance companies; second that the funds give nearly-unilateral authority to the CMS Administrator to determine how to allocate payments among states; third that, in giving so much authority to CMS, the funds further undermine the principle of state regulation of health insurance; fourth that the funds represent a short-term budgetary gimmick—essentially, throwing taxpayer dollars at insurers to keep premiums low between now and the 2020 presidential election—that cannot or should not be sustained in the longer term; and finally that placing the funds within the SCHIP program will prove insufficient to prevent federal funding of plans that cover abortion.

Implementation Fund:        Provides $500 million to implement programs under the bill.

Repeal of Some Obamacare Taxes:             Repeals some Obamacare taxes:

  • Tax on high-cost health plans (also known as the “Cadillac tax”)—but only through 2025;
  • Restrictions on use of Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Arrangements to pay for over-the-counter medications, effective January 1, 2017;
  • Increased penalties on non-health care uses of Health Savings Account dollars, effective January 1, 2017;
  • Limits on Flexible Spending Arrangement contributions, effective January 1, 2018;
  • Tax on pharmaceuticals, effective January 1, 2018;
  • Medical device tax, effective January 1, 2018;
  • Health insurer tax (currently being suspended);
  • Elimination of deduction for employers who receive a subsidy from Medicare for offering retiree prescription drug coverage, effective January 1, 2017;
  • Limitation on medical expenses as an itemized deduction, effective January 1, 2017;
  • Medicare tax on “high-income” individuals, effective January 1, 2023;
  • Tax on tanning services, effective September 30, 2017;
  • Net investment tax, effective January 1, 2017;
  • Limitation on deductibility of salaries to insurance industry executives, effective January 1, 2017.

These provisions are generally similar to Sections 209 through 221 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. However, the bill does NOT repeal the economic substance tax, which WAS repealed in Section 222 of the 2015/2016 bill. Moreover, the bill delays repeal of the Medicare “high-income” tax (which is not indexed to inflation) for an additional six years, until 2023.

Health Savings Accounts:  Increases contribution limits to HSAs, raising them from the current $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families in 2017 to the out-of-pocket maximum amounts (currently $6,550 for an individual and $13,100 for a family), effective January 2018. Allows both spouses to make catch-up contributions to the same Health Savings Account. Permits individuals who take up to 60 days to establish an HSA upon enrolling in HSA-eligible coverage to be reimbursed from their account for medical expenses.

Federal Payments to States:             Imposes a one-year ban on federal funds flowing to certain entities. This provision would have the effect of preventing Medicaid funding of certain medical providers, including Planned Parenthood, so long as Planned Parenthood provides for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother). This language is virtually identical to Section 206 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Medicaid Expansion:           The discussion draft varies significantly from the repeal of Medicaid expansion included in Section 207 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. The 2015/2016 reconciliation bill repealed both elements of the Medicaid expansion—the change in eligibility allowing able-bodied adults to join the program, and the enhanced (90-100%) federal match that states received for covering them.

By contrast, the discussion draft retains eligibility for the able-bodied adult population—making this population optional for states to cover, rather than mandatory. (The Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius made Medicaid expansion optional for states.) Some conservatives may be concerned that this change represents a marked weakening of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill language, one that will entrench a massive expansion of Medicaid beyond its original focus on the most vulnerable in society.

With respect to the Medicaid match rate, the discussion draft reduces the enhanced federal match to states—scheduled under current law as 90 percent in 2020—to 85 percent in 2021, 80 percent in 2022, and 75 percent in 2023. The regular federal match rates would apply for expansion states—defined as those that expanded Medicaid prior to March 1, 2017—beginning in 2024, and to all other states effective immediately. (In the case of states that already expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults prior to Obamacare’s enactment, the bill provides for an 80 percent federal match for 2017 through 2023.)

The bill also repeals the requirement that Medicaid “benchmark” plans comply with Obamacare’s essential health benefits, also effective December 31, 2019.

Finally, the bill repeals provisions regarding presumptive eligibility and the Community First Choice Option, eliminating a six percent increase in the Medicaid match rate for some home and community-based services.

Some conservatives may be concerned that the language in this bill would give expansion states a strong incentive to sign up many more individuals for Medicaid over the next seven years. Some conservatives may also be concerned that, by extending the Medicaid transition for such a long period, it will never in fact go into effect.

Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) Allotments:                Exempts non-expansion states from scheduled reductions in DSH payments in fiscal years 2021 through 2024, and provides an increase in DSH payments for non-expansion states in fiscal year 2020, based on a state’s Medicaid enrollment.

Retroactive Eligibility:       Effective October 2017, restricts retroactive eligibility in Medicaid to the month in which the individual applied for the program; current law requires three months of retroactive eligibility.

Non-Expansion State Funding:             Includes $10 billion ($2 billion per year) in funding for Medicaid non-expansion states, for calendar years 2018 through 2022. States can receive a 100 percent federal match (95 percent in 2022), up to their share of the allotment. A non-expansion state’s share of the $2 billion in annual allotments would be determined by its share of individuals below 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) when compared to non-expansion states. This funding would be excluded from the Medicaid per capita spending caps discussed in greater detail below.

Eligibility Re-Determinations:             Permits—but unlike the House bill, does not require—states, beginning October 1, 2017, to re-determine eligibility for individuals qualifying for Medicaid on the basis of income every six months, or at shorter intervals. Provides a five percentage point increase in the federal match rate for states that elect this option.

Work Requirements:           Permits (but does not require) states to, beginning October 1, 2017, impose work requirements on “non-disabled, non-elderly, non-pregnant” beneficiaries. States can determine the length of time for such work requirements. Provides a five percentage point increase in the federal match for state expenses attributable to activities implementing the work requirements.

States may not impose requirements on pregnant women (through 60 days after birth); children under age 19; the sole parent of a child under age 6, or sole parent or caretaker of a child with disabilities; or a married individual or head of household under age 20 who “maintains satisfactory attendance at secondary school or equivalent,” or participates in vocational education.

Provider Taxes:        Reduces permissible Medicaid provider taxes from 6 percent under current law to 5.8 percent in fiscal year 2021, 5.6 percent in fiscal year 2022, 5.4 percent in fiscal year 2023, 5.2 percent in fiscal year 2024, and 5 percent in fiscal year 2025 and future fiscal years. Some conservatives may view provider taxes as essentially “money laundering”—a game in which states engage in shell transactions solely designed to increase the federal share of Medicaid funding and reduce states’ share. More information can be found here.

Medicaid Per Capita Caps:              Creates a system of per capita spending caps for federal spending on Medicaid, beginning in fiscal year 2020. States that exceed their caps would have their federal match reduced in the following fiscal year.

The cap would include all spending on medical care provided through the Medicaid program, with the exception of DSH payments and Medicare cost-sharing paid for dual eligibles (individuals eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare). The cap would rise by medical CPI plus one percentage point annually.

While the cap would take effect in fiscal year 2020, states could choose their “base period” based on any eight consecutive quarters of expenditures between October 1, 2013 and June 30, 2017. The CMS Administrator would have authority to make adjustments to relevant data if she believes a state attempted to “game” the look-back period.

Creates five classes of beneficiaries for whom the caps would apply: 1) elderly individuals over age 65; 2) blind and disabled beneficiaries; 3) children under age 19; 4) expansion enrollees (i.e., able-bodied adults enrolled under Obamacare); and 5) all other non-disabled, non-elderly, non-expansion adults (e.g., pregnant women, parents, etc.). Excludes State Children’s Health Insurance Plan enrollees, Indian Health Service participants, breast and cervical cancer services eligible individuals, and certain other partial benefit enrollees from the per capita caps.

For years before fiscal year 2025, indexes the caps to medical inflation for children, expansion enrollees, and all other non-expansion enrollees, with the caps rising by medical inflation plus one percentage point for aged, blind, and disabled beneficiaries. Beginning in fiscal year 2025, indexes the caps to overall inflation.

Includes provisions in the House bill regarding “required expenditures by certain political subdivisions.” Some conservatives may question the need to retain a parochial New York-related provision into the bill.

Provides a provision—not included in the House bill—for effectively re-basing the per capita caps. Allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services to increase the caps by between 0.5% and 2% for low-spending states (defined as having per capita expenditures 25% below the national median), and lower the caps by between 0.5% and 2% for high-spending states (with per capita expenditures 25% above the national median). The Secretary may only implement this provision in a budget-neutral manner, i.e., one that does not increase the deficit. However, this re-basing provision shall NOT apply to any state with a population density of under 15 individuals per square mile.

Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reduce states’ annual growth rate by one percent for any year in which that state “fails to satisfactorily submit data” regarding its Medicaid program. Permits HHS to adjust cap amounts to reflect data errors, based on an appeal by the state, increasing cap levels by no more than two percent. Requires new state reporting on inpatient psychiatric hospital services and children with complex medical conditions. Requires the HHS Inspector General to audit each state’s spending at least every three years.

For the period including calendar quarters beginning on October 1, 2017 through October 1, 2019, increases the federal Medicaid match for certain state expenditures to improve data recording, including a 100 percent match in some instances.

Some conservatives may note that the use of the past several years as the “base period” for the per capita caps, benefits states who expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults under Obamacare. The most recent actuarial report on Medicaid noted that, while the actuary originally predicted that adults in the expansion population would cost less than existing populations, in reality each newly eligible enrollee cost 13.6% more than existing populations in 2016. Some states have used the 100% federal match for their expansion populations—i.e., “free money from Washington”—to raise provider reimbursement levels.

Some conservatives may therefore be concerned that the draft bill would retain the increased spending on adults in expansion states—extending the inequities caused by states that have used Obamacare’s “free money” to raise Medicaid spending while sending Washington the tab.

Medicaid Block Grants:      Creates a Medicaid block grant, called the “Medicaid Flexibility Program,” beginning in Fiscal Year 2020. Requires interested states to submit an application providing a proposed packet of services, a commitment to submit relevant data (including health quality measures and clinical data), and a statement of program goals. Requires public notice-and-comment periods at both the state and federal levels.

The amount of the block grant would total the regular federal match rate, multiplied by the target per capita spending amounts (as calculated above), multiplied by the number of expected enrollees (adjusted forward based on the estimated increase in population for the state, per Census Bureau estimates). In future years, the block grant would be increased by general inflation.

Prohibits states from increasing their base year block grant population beyond 2016 levels, adjusted for population growth, plus an additional three percentage points. This provision is likely designed to prevent states from “packing” their Medicaid programs full of beneficiaries immediately prior to a block grant’s implementation, solely to achieve higher federal payments.

Permits states to roll over block grant payments from year to year, provided that they comply with maintenance of effort requirements. Reduces federal payments for the following year in the case of states that fail to meet their maintenance of effort spending requirements, and permits the HHS Secretary to make reductions in the case of a state’s non-compliance. Requires the Secretary to publish block grant amounts for every state every year, regardless of whether or not the state elects the block grant option.

Permits block grants for a program period of five fiscal years, subject to renewal; plans with “no significant changes” would not have to re-submit an application for their block grants. Permits a state to terminate the block grant, but only if the state “has in place an appropriate transition plan approved by the Secretary.”

Imposes a series of conditions on Medicaid block grants, requiring coverage for all mandatory populations identified in the Medicaid statute, and use of the Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) standard for determining eligibility. Includes 14 separate categories of services that states must cover for mandatory populations under the block grant. Requires benefits to have an actuarial value (coverage of average health expenses) of at least 95 percent of the benchmark coverage options in place prior to Obamacare. Permits states to determine the amount, duration, and scope of benefits within the parameters listed above.

Applies mental health parity provisions to the Medicaid block grant, and extends the Medicaid rebate program to any outpatient drugs covered under same. Permits states to impose premiums, deductibles, or other cost-sharing, provided such efforts do not exceed 5 percent of a family’s income in any given year.

Requires participating states to have simplified enrollment processes, coordinate with insurance Exchanges, and “establish a fair process” for individuals to appeal adverse eligibility determinations.

Exempts states from per capita caps, waivers, state plan amendments, and other provisions of Title XIX of the Social Security Act while participating in Medicaid block grants.

Performance Bonus Payments:             Provides an $8 billion pool for bonus payments to state Medicaid and SCHIP programs for Fiscal Years 2023 through 2026. Allows the Secretary to increase federal matching rates for states that 1) have lower than expected expenses under the per capita caps and 2) report applicable quality measures, and have a plan to use the additional funds on quality improvement. While noting the goal of reducing health costs through quality improvement, and incentives for same, some conservatives may be concerned that this provision—as with others in the bill—gives near-blanket authority to the HHS Secretary to control the program’s parameters, power that conservatives believe properly resides outside Washington—and power that a future Democratic Administration could use to contravene conservative objectives.

Medicaid Waivers:  Permits states to extend Medicaid managed care waivers (those approved prior to January 1, 2017, and renewed at least once) in perpetuity through a state plan amendment, with an expedited/guaranteed approval process by CMS. Requires HHS to adopt processes “encouraging States to adopt or extend waivers” regarding home and community-based services, if those waivers would improve patient access.

Coordination with States:               After January 1, 2018, prohibits CMS from finalizing any Medicaid rule unless CMS and HHS 1) provide an ongoing regular process for soliciting comments from state Medicaid agencies and Medicaid directors; 2) solicit oral and written comments in advance of any proposed rule on Medicaid; and 3) respond to said comments in the preamble of the proposed rule.

Inpatient Psychiatric Services:             Provides for optional state Medicaid coverage of inpatient psychiatric services for individuals over 21 and under 65 years of age. (Current law permits coverage of such services for individuals under age 21.) Such coverage would not exceed 30 days in any month or 90 days in any calendar year. In order to receive such assistance, the state must maintain its number of licensed psychiatric beds as of the date of enactment, and maintain current levels of funding for inpatient services and outpatient psychiatric services. Provides a lower (i.e., 50 percent) match for such services, furnished on or after October 1, 2018.

Small Business Health Plans:             Amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) to allow for creation of small business health plans. Some may question whether or not this provision will meet the “Byrd rule” test for inclusion on a budget reconciliation measure.

Title II

Prevention and Public Health Fund:             Eliminates funding for the Obamacare prevention “slush fund,” and rescinds all unobligated balances. This language is substantially similar to Section 101 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Opioid Funding:       Appropriates $2 billion for Fiscal Year 2018 for the HHS Secretary to distribute “grants to states to support substance use disorder treatment and recovery support services.”

Community Health Centers:             Increases funding for community health centers by $422 million for Fiscal Year 2018—money intended to offset reductions in spending on Planned Parenthood affiliates (see “Federal Payments to States” above). Language regarding community health centers was included in Section 102 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Age Rating:   Changes the maximum variation in insurance markets from 3-to-1 (i.e., insurers can charge older applicants no more than three times younger applicants) to 5-to-1 effective January 1, 2019, with the option for states to provide for other age rating requirements. Some conservatives may be concerned that, despite the ability for states to opt out, this provision, by setting a default federal standard, maintains the intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare.

Medical Loss Ratios:            Permits states to determine their own medical loss ratios, beginning for plan years on or after January 1, 2019.

State Innovation Waivers:              Amends Section 1332 of Obamacare regarding state innovation waivers. Eliminates the requirement that states codify their waivers in state law, by allowing a Governor or State Insurance Commissioner to provide authority for said waivers. Appropriates $2 billion for Fiscal Years 2017 through 2019 to allow states to submit waiver applications, and allows states to use the long-term stability fund to carry out the plan. Allows for an expedited approval process “if the Secretary determines that such expedited process is necessary to respond to an urgent or emergency situation with respect to health insurance coverage within a State.”

Requires the HHS Secretary to approve all waivers, unless they will increase the federal budget deficit—a significant change from the Obamacare parameters, which many conservatives viewed as unduly restrictive. (For more background on Section 1332 waivers, see this article.)

Provides for a standard eight-year waiver (unless a state requests a shorter period), with automatic renewals upon application by the state, and may not be cancelled by the Secretary before the expiration of the eight-year period.

Provides that Section 1332 waivers approved prior to enactment shall be governed under the “old” (i.e., Obamacare) parameters, that waiver applications submitted after enactment shall be governed under the “new” parameters, and that states with pending (but not yet approved) applications at the time of enactment can choose to have their waivers governed under the “old” or the “new” parameters.

Cost-Sharing Subsidies:      Repeals Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies, effective December 31, 2019. Appropriates funds for cost-sharing subsidy claims for plan years through 2019—a provision not included in the House bill. The House of Representatives filed suit against the Obama Administration (House v. Burwell) alleging the Administration acted unconstitutionally in spending funds on the cost-sharing subsidies without an explicit appropriation from Congress. The case is currently on hold pending settlement discussions between the Trump Administration and the House. Some conservatives may view the appropriation first as likely to get stricken under the “Byrd rule,” and second as a budget gimmick—acknowledging that Obamacare did NOT appropriate funds for the payments by including an appropriation for 2017 through 2019, but then relying on nearly $100 billion in phantom “savings” from repealing the non-existent “appropriation” for years after 2020.

CBO Estimate of American Health Care Act, As Passed by the House

On May 24, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its score of the American Health Care Act, as passed by the House on May 4. CBO found that the bill would:

  • Reduce deficits by about $119 billion over ten years—$133 billion in on-budget savings, offset by $14 billion in off-budget (i.e., Social Security) costs.
  • Increase the number of uninsured by 14 million in 2018, rising to a total of 23 million by 2026—a slight reduction from its earlier estimates.
  • Generally reduce individual market insurance premiums, “in part because the insurance, on average, would pay for a smaller proportion of health care costs.” However, those reductions would vary widely, as detailed further below.

Most of the CBO analysis focused on changes to the legislation made since the bill was originally introduced—and specifically the effects on insurance markets. The current CBO report therefore should be read in conjunction with the prior report (found online here, and my summary of same here).

Waivers:         With respect to the state waivers for insurance regulations—specifically, essential health benefits and community rating requirements—CBO categorized states as adopting one of three general approaches, based in part on the way states regulated their insurance markets prior to Obamacare. CBO did not attempt to determine which states would make which decisions, but used three categories to describe their attitude toward the waivers:

  • About half of the population would live in states that would not adopt the waivers;
  • About one-third of the population would live in states adopting “moderate” waivers; and
  • About one-sixth of the population would live in states adopting “substantial” waivers.

No Waiver States:       CBO estimated that in these states, premiums would fall by an average of 4 percent by 2026, due largely to a younger and healthier population purchasing insurance. Specifically, the greater variation in age rating that the bill permits for insurers, beginning in 2019, would raise premiums for older people while “substantially” lowering them for younger individuals.

Moderate Waiver States:        CBO estimated that in these states, premiums would fall by an average of 20 percent, with significant variations. “The estimated reductions in average premiums range from 10 percent to 30 percent in different areas of the country,” and reductions for younger people would be greater than those for older individuals. The premium reductions would come because “on average, insurance policies would provide fewer benefits;” however, plans “would still offer financial protection from most major health risks.”

CBO noted that states making moderate changes might eliminate such requirements as maternity care, mental health, substance abuse, rehabilitative and habilitative care, and pediatric dental care. In general, insurers “would not want to sell policies that included benefits that were not mandated by state law.” Carriers could sell supplemental riders for such coverage, but CBO concluded most individuals purchasing those riders would utilize them, potentially resulting in “substantially higher out-of-pocket costs” for said individuals.

In the case of states making moderate changes via waivers, CBO estimated that while premiums would be lower for individual insurance, employers would be more likely to continue offering group coverage, and therefore fewer employees would switch from employer to individual market policies. CBO estimated that, compared to the previous estimate, “slightly more people would have insurance in those states, but fewer of them would be enrolled through the non-group market.”

Substantial Waiver States:    In these states, CBO estimated that, while waivers would result in “significantly lower premiums” for those with low expected health costs, the changes could destabilize markets over time, such that less healthy individuals might be “unable to purchase comprehensive coverage with premiums close to those under current law and might not be able to purchase coverage at all.”

Essentially, CBO believes that waiving the community rating provision will create an arbitrage opportunity, whereby healthy individuals will want to undergo medical underwriting to lower premiums, while sick individuals will be unable to do so. CBO wrote that some healthy individuals will actually attempt to hide proof of continuous health insurance coverage, because they could achieve lower premiums by doing so:

CBO and JCT anticipate that, in states making substantial changes to market regulations, most healthy people applying for insurance in the nongroup market would be able to choose between underwritten premiums and community-rated premiums. If underwritten premiums were to their advantage, healthy applicants could fail to provide proof of continuous coverage when first applying for nongroup insurance—or allow their coverage to lapse for more than 63 days before applying. Moreover, insurers and states might have difficulty verifying that an applicant did not have continuous coverage. As a result, such a waiver would potentially allow the spread of medical underwriting to the entire nongroup market in a state rather than limiting it to those who did not have continuous coverage.

Essentially, CBO believes that this arbitrage opportunity could lead to a “death spiral” when it comes to coverage for individuals with high health needs—they may be unable to purchase coverage at any price. As a result, CBO concluded that in substantial waiver states, “employers would be even more likely to continue offering coverage than in states making moderate changes,” which would tend to keep individuals enrolled in group coverage, and decrease coverage in the individual insurance market overall.

CBO also noted that a “few million” (number not more specifically defined) individuals might purchase coverage that “would not cover major medical risks.” It noted the possibility that a secondary market would develop to sell insurance policies priced to match the amount of the bill’s tax credits: “Although such plans would provide some benefits, the policies would not provide enough financial protection in the event of a serious and costly illness to be considered insurance.”

Patient and State Stability Fund:            The estimate included additional details surrounding the Stability Fund, most of which CBO assumed “would be used by states to reduce premiums or increase benefits in the non-group market:”

  • The original $100 billion allocated to the fund would “exert substantial downward pressure on premiums in the non-group market and would help encourage insurers’ participation in the market.”
  • The $15 billion in invisible risk sharing funds, which “would be directed to insurers to reduce their risk of having high-cost enrollees…would have a small effect on premiums in 2018 and a larger effect on premiums in 2019.”
  • The $8 billion in funds for waiver states “would increase the number of states choosing such a waiver,” but CBO did not attempt to predict the precise way in which states would utilize those funds. While one section of the estimate alleges that “the funding would not be sufficient to substantially reduce the large increases in premiums for high-cost enrollees,” another section notes that only $6 billion of the funding would be spent over the decade—providing contradictory and unclear messages about whether the funding would be sufficient, and if it would not, why CBO thinks some of that supposedly insufficient funding would not be spent within a decade.
  • The $15 billion to cover maternity and mental health care would likely go to “health care providers rather than to insurers;” $14 billion would be spent over the decade.

Changes in Insurance Coverage:               CBO estimated that under the bill, the number of uninsured would rise by 14 million in 2018, 19 million in 2020, and 23 million in 2026. With respect to Medicaid, 14 million fewer people would have coverage than under current law; however, CBO noted that some of those individuals “would be among people who CBO projects would, under current law, become eligible in the future as additional states adopted” Medicaid expansion.

CBO estimated that the individual insurance market would decline by 8 million in 2018, 10 million in 2020, and 6 million in 2026. The estimate noted CBO’s belief that the individual market will shrink in 2020, only to expand in later years, because of implementation difficulties, particularly for states that apply for waivers and are therefore charged with certifying plans. “CBO and JCT expect that such implementation difficulties would result in some reduction in coverage and some occasions when individuals purchasing coverage would fail to get the credits. Those difficulties would probably decline over time in most markets.”

When compared to its original estimate of the bill, CBO concluded that:

  • Enrollment in the individual market would be 1 million lower in 2018 and 3 million lower in 2026, due to more employers continuing to offer coverage, while some otherwise uninsured individuals would choose to enroll in individual coverage due to lower premiums.
  • Employer based coverage would increase by 1 million in 2018 and 4 million in 2026, primarily because employers would be more likely to offer—and employees more likely to accept—group health coverage in states with insurance waivers.
  • The uninsured would decrease by 2 million in 2020 and 1 million in 2026, “primarily attributable to lower premiums for non-group coverage.” CBO concluded that, while coverage would be less robust under the waivers, “more people would choose to enroll rather than be uninsured.”

Administrative Complexity:          CBO included several passages noting the complexity and potential administrative/implementation challenges associated with the bill. It assumed that the state insurance waivers would not actually go into effect until 2020, as states would need time to prepare for same. For instance, CBO noted that Obamacare subsidies—which would remain in effect in 2018 and 2019 under the bill—are linked to the second-lowest cost silver plan. Determining the second-lowest cost silver plan in a state waiving some or all Obamacare regulations—where insurers could practice medical underwriting for individuals without continuous coverage—would require “substantial additional regulations or guidance.”

Further, because states accepting waivers would have to define qualified health plans beginning in 2020, those states would have to administer the tax credit program. The uncertainties surrounding whether and how states could administer the new programs led CBO to conclude that in waiver states “eligible people would initially be slower to take up the offer of tax credits, more claims would be made by people who are ineligible, and payments would be made for policies that do not qualify as insurance.”

Will the “Byrd Bath” Turn Into a Tax Credit Bloodbath?

While most of official Washington waits for word—expected early this week—from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) about the fiscal effects of House Republicans’ “repeal-and-replace” legislation, another, equally critical debate is taking place within the corridors of the Capitol. Arcane arguments behind closed doors about the nuances of parliamentary procedure will do much to determine the bill’s fate in the Senate—and could lead to a final product vastly altered compared to its current form.

In recent days, House leaders have made numerous comments highlighting the procedural limitations of the budget reconciliation process in the Senate. However, those statements do not necessarily mean that the legislation released last week comports with all of those Senate strictures. Indeed, my conversations with more than half a dozen current and former senior Senate staff, all of whom have long expertise in the minutiae of Senate rules and procedure, have revealed at least four significant procedural issues—one regarding abortion, two regarding immigration, and one regarding a structural “firewall”—surrounding the bill’s tax credit regime.

Those and other procedural questions explain why, according to my sources, Senate staff will spend the coming week determining whether they will need to write an entirely new bill to substitute for the House’s proposed language. The stakes involved are high: Guidance from the parliamentarian suggesting that the House bill contains fatal procedural flaws, meaning it does not qualify as a reconciliation bill, could force the House to repeat the process, starting again with a new, “clean” reconciliation measure.

It is far too premature to claim that any of these potential flaws will necessarily be fatal. The Senate parliamentarian’s guidance to senators depends on textual analysis—of the bill’s specific wording, the underlying statutes to which it refers, and the CBO scores (not yet available)—and arguments about precedent made by both parties. Senate staff could re-draft portions of the House bill to make it pass procedural muster, or make arguments to preserve the existing language that the parliamentarian accepts as consistent with Senate precedents. Nevertheless, if the parliamentarian validates even one of the four potential procedural problems, Republicans could end up with a tax credit regime that is politically unsustainable, or whose costs escalate appreciably.

In 2009, Democratic Senator Kent Conrad famously opined that passing health care legislation through budget reconciliation would make the bill look like “Swiss cheese.” (While Democrats did not pass Obamacare through reconciliation, they did use the reconciliation process to “fix” the bill that cleared the Senate on Christmas Eve 2009.) In reality, it’s much easier to repeal provisions of a budgetary nature—like Obamacare’s taxes, entitlements, and even its major regulations—through reconciliation than to create a new replacement regime. The coming week may provide firsthand proof of Conrad’s 2009 axiom.

“Byrd Rule” and Abortion

The Senate’s so-called “Byrd rule” governing debate on budget reconciliation rules—named after former Senate Majority Leader and procedural guru Robert Byrd (D-WV)— in fact consists of not one rule, but six. The six points of order (codified here) seek to keep extraneous material out of the expedited reconciliation process, preserving the Senate tradition of unlimited debate, subject to the usual 60-vote margin to break a filibuster.

The Byrd rule’s most famous test states that “a provision shall be considered extraneous if it produces changes in outlays or revenues which are merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the legislation.” If the section in question primarily makes a policy change, and has a minimal budgetary impact, it remains in the bill only if 60 senators (the usual margin necessary to break a filibuster) agree to waive the Byrd point of order.

One example of this test may apply to the House bill’s tax credits: “Hyde amendment” language preventing the credits from funding plans that cover abortion. Such language protecting taxpayer funding of abortion coverage occurs several places throughout the bill, including at the top of page 25 of the Ways and Means title.

Over multiple decades, and numerous parliamentarians, Republican efforts to enact Hyde amendment protections through budget reconciliation have all failed. It is possible that Republicans could in the next few weeks find new arguments that allow these critical protections to remain in the House bill—but that scenario cannot be viewed as likely.

The question will then occur as to what becomes of both the credit and the Hyde protections. Some within the Administration have argued that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can institute pro-life protections through regulations—but Administration insiders doubt HHS’ authority to do so. Moreover, most pro-life groups publicly denounced President Obama’s March 2010 executive order—which he claimed would prevent taxpayer funding of abortion coverage in Obamacare—as 1) insufficient and 2) subject to change under a future Administration. How would those pro-life groups view a regulatory change by the current Administration any differently?

Immigration

A similarly controversial issue—immigration—brings an even larger set of procedural challenges. Apart from the separate question of whether the current verification provisions in the House bill are sufficiently robust, ANY eligibility verification regime for tax credits faces not one, but two major procedural obstacles in the Senate.

Of the six tests under the Byrd rule, some are more fatal than others. For instance, if the Hyde amendment restrictions outlined above are ruled incidental in nature, then those provisions merely get stricken from the bill unless 60 Senators vote to retain them—a highly improbable scenario in this case.

But two other tests under the Byrd rule—provisions outside a committee’s jurisdiction, and provisions making changes to Title II of the Social Security Act—are fatal not just to that particular provision, but to the entire bill, potentially forcing the process to begin all over again in the House. The eligibility verification regime touches them both.

Page 37 of the Ways and Means title of the bill requires creation of a verification regime for tax credits similar to that created under Sections 1411 and 1412 of Obamacare. As Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Tom Barthold testified last week during the Ways and Means Committee markup, verifying citizenship requires use of a database held by the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).

That admission creates a big problem: The tax credit lies within the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee—but CIS lies within the jurisdiction of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. And because the Finance Committee’s portion of the reconciliation bill can affect only programs within the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction, imposing programmatic requirements on CIS to verify citizenship status could exceed the Finance Committee’s scope—potentially jeopardizing the entire bill.

The verification provisions in Sections 1411 and 1412 of Obamacare also require the use of Social Security numbers—triggering another potentially fatal blow to the entire bill. Senate sources report that, during when drafting the original reconciliation bill repealing Obamacare in the fall of 2015, Republicans attempted to repeal the language in Obamacare (Section 1414(a)(2), to be precise) giving the Secretary of HHS authority to collect and use Social Security numbers to establish eligibility. However, because Section 1414(a)(2) of Obamacare amended Title II of the Social Security Act, Republicans ultimately did not repeal this section of Obamacare in the reconciliation bill—because it could have triggered a point of order fatal to the legislation.

If both the points of order against the verification regime are sustained, Congress will have to re-write the bill to create an eligibility verification system that 1) does not rely on the Department of Homeland Security AND 2) does not use Social Security numbers. Doing so would create both political and policy problems. On the political side, the revised verification regime would exacerbate existing concerns that undocumented immigrants may have access to federal tax credits.

But the policy implications of a weaker verification regime might actually be more profound. Weaker verification would likely result in a higher score from CBO and JCT—budget scorekeepers would assume a higher incidence of fraud, raising the credits’ costs. House leaders might then have to reduce the amount of their tax credit to reflect the higher take-up of the credit by fraudsters taking advantage of lax verification. And any reduction in the credit amounts would bring with it additional political and policy implications, including lower coverage rates.

Firewall Concerns

Finally, the tax credit “firewall”—designed to ensure that only individuals without access to other health insurance options receive federal subsidies—could also present procedural concerns. Specifically, pages 27 and 28 of the bill make ineligible for the credit individuals participating in other forms of health insurance, several of which—Tricare, Veterans Administration coverage, coverage for Peace Corps volunteers, etc.—lie outside the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction.

If the Senate parliamentarian advises for the removal of references to these programs because they lie outside the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction, then participants in those programs will essentially be able to “double-dip”—to receive both the federal tax credit AND maintain their current coverage. As with the immigration provision outlined above, such a scenario could significantly increase the tax credits’ cost—requiring offsetting cuts elsewhere, which would have their own budgetary implications.

Senate sources indicate that this “firewall” concern could prove less problematic than the immigration concern outlined above. While the immigration provision extends new programmatic authority to the Administration to develop a revised eligibility verification system, the “firewall” provisions have the opposite effect—essentially excluding Tricare and other program recipients from the credit. However, if the parliamentarian gives guidance suggesting that some or all of the “firewall” provisions must go, that will have a significant impact on the bill’s fiscal impact.

Broader Implications

Both individually and collectively, these four potential procedural concerns hint at an intellectual inconsistency in the House bill’s approach—one Yuval Levin highlighted in National Review last week. House leaders claim that their bill was drafted to comply with the Senate reconciliation procedures. But the bill itself contains numerous actual or potential violations of those procedures—and amends some of Obamacare’s insurance regulations, rather than repealing them outright—making their argument incoherent.

Particularly when it comes to Obamacare’s costly insurance regulations, there seems little reason not to make the “ol’ college try,” and attempt to repeal the major mandates that have raised premium levels. According to prior CBO scores, other outside estimates, and the Obama Administration’s own estimates when releasing the regulations, the major regulations have significant budgetary effects. Republicans can and should argue to the parliamentarian that the regulations’ repeal would be neither incidental nor extraneous—their repeal would remove the terms and conditions under which Obamacare created its insurance subsidies in the first place, thus meeting the Byrd test. If successful, such efforts would provide relief on the issue Americans care most about: Reducing health costs and staggering premium increases.

When it comes to the tax credit itself, Republicans may face some difficult choices. Abortion and immigration present thorny—and controversial—issues, either one of which could sink the legislation. When it comes to the bill’s tax credits, the “Byrd bath,” in which the parliamentarian gives guidance on what provisions can remain in the reconciliation bill, could become a bloodbath. If pro-life protections and eligibility verification come out of the bill, a difficult choice for conservatives on whether or not to support tax credits will become that much harder.

Summary of House Republicans’ Latest Obamacare “Replace” Legislation

UPDATE:        On March 13, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its score of the bill. CBO found that the bill would:

  • Reduce deficits by about $337 billion over ten years—$323 billion in on-budget savings, along with $13 billion in off-budget (i.e., Social Security) savings.
  • Increase the number of uninsured by 14 million in 2018, rising to a total of 24 million by 2026.
  • Raise individual market premiums by 15-20 percent in 2018 and 2019, but then lower premiums in years following 2020, such that in 2026, premiums would be about 10 percent lower than under current law.

Among CBO’s major conclusions regarding provisions in the bill:

Individual Market Changes, 2017-19:             CBO believes that eliminating the mandate penalties will effectively increase insurance premiums; however, the presence of subsidies will still induce “a significant number of relatively healthy people” to purchase coverage. The budget office believes that elimination of the mandate will increase the number of uninsured by roughly 4 million in 2017. In 2018, CBO believes the number of uninsured would increase by 14 million—6 million from the individual market, 5 million from Medicaid, and 2 million from employer coverage. “In 2019, the number of uninsured would grow to 16 million people because of further reductions in Medicaid and non-group coverage.” CBO believes most of these coverage losses would be due to repealing the individual mandate—as a result of individuals who stop buying coverage with repeal of the mandate penalties, or those deterred by expected premium spikes.

With respect to premiums, CBO believes that “average premiums for single policy-holders in the non-group market would be 15 percent to 20 percent higher than under current law, mainly because of the elimination of the individual mandate penalties.” Eliminating the mandate penalties would increase adverse selection (i.e., a disproportionately older and sicker enrollee population), mitigated somewhat by potential reinsurance payments from the State Stability Fund.

CBO believes that the availability of Obamacare premium subsidies (but NOT cost-sharing subsidies) to individuals purchasing coverage off of Exchanges in 2018 and 2019 will lead to about 2 million individuals taking the subsidies for off-Exchange coverage. Likewise, CBO believes that altering the subsidy regime for 2019 only—to increase subsidies for younger enrollees, while decreasing them for older enrollees—will increase enrollment by about one million, “the net result of higher enrollment among younger people and lower enrollment among older people.”

With respect to other market changes during the transition period, CBO expects that the State Stability Fund will operate through the Department of Health and Human Services (as opposed to the states) before 2020, as states will not have adequate time to set up their own programs for 2018 and 2019. CBO also notes that the “continuous coverage” provision—i.e., a 30 percent surcharge for those who lack coverage for more than 63 days—will induce about 1 million individuals to purchase coverage in 2018, but will deter about 2 million individuals from purchasing coverage in 2019 and future years.

CBO also notes that “the people deterred from purchasing coverage [by the surcharge] would tend to be healthier than those who would not be deterred and would be willing to pay the surcharge”—raising the question of whether or not this “continuous coverage” provision would exacerbate, rather than alleviate, adverse selection in insurance markets.

The expansion of age rating bands—from 3-to-1 under current law to 5-to-1 in the new bill—would increase enrollment marginally, by less than 500,000 in 2019, “the net result of higher enrollment among younger people and lower enrollment among older people.”

While CBO does not believe a “death spiral” would emerge in most sections of the country, it does note that “significant changes in non-group subsidies and market rules would occur each year for the first three years following enactment, which might cause uncertainty for insurers in setting premiums.” CBO believes that the health status of enrollees would worsen in 2018, due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalties. However, in 2019 CBO notes that two changes for that year—expansion of the age rating bands, as well as a one-year change to the Obamacare subsidies—may attract healthier enrollees, but “it might be difficult for insurers to set premiums for 2019 using their prior experience in the market.”

Individual Market Changes, 2020-2026: In 2020, CBO believes that roughly 9 million fewer individuals would purchase coverage on the individual market than under current law—a number that would fall to 2 million in 2026. Employer-based coverage would also decline, by a net of roughly 2 million in 2020, rising to 7 million by 2026, because elimination of the individual mandate penalties will discourage individuals from taking up employer-sponsored coverage. “In addition, CBO and JCT expect that, over time, fewer employers would offer health insurance to their workers.” Overall, the number of uninsured would increase to 48 million by 2020, and 52 million by 2026, with the increase “disproportionately larger among older people with lower income.”

With respect to premiums in years 2020 and following, CBO believes that “the increase in average premiums from repealing the individual mandate penalties would be more than offset by the combination of three main factors:” 1) a younger and healthier mix of enrollees than under current law; 2) elimination of actuarial value requirements, therefore lowering premiums; and 3) reinsurance payments from the State Stability Fund. CBO believes that “by 2025, average premiums for single policy-holders in the non-group market under the legislation would be roughly 10 percent lower than the estimates under current law.” Some conservatives may note that in 2009, CBO analyzed Obamacare as increasing premiums by 10-13 percent relative to prior law—meaning that under the best possible assumptions, the bill might only begin to undo one decade from now the harmful premium increases created by Obamacare.

CBO also notes that the overall reduction in premiums would mask significant changes by age, raising premiums for older enrollees while lowering them for younger enrollees. Specifically, “premiums in the non-group market would be 20 percent to 25 percent lower for a 21-year-old and 8 percent to 10 percent lower for a 40-year-old—but 20 percent to 25 percent higher for a 64-year-old.”

CBO notes that, while elimination of the actuarial value requirements would theoretically allow health insurance plans to reduce coverage below 60 percent of actuarial value (i.e., percentage of expected health costs covered by insurance), retention of Obamacare’s essential health benefits requirements would “significantly limit the ability of insurers to design plans with an actuarial value much below 60 percent.”

However, CBO does believe that the insurance market changes would lower plans’ average actuarial value overall, while increasing out-of-pocket costs. “CBO and JCT [also] expect that, under the legislation, plans would be harder to compare, making shopping for a plan on the basis of price more difficult.”

The transition to a new subsidy regime in 2020 would change market composition appreciably. Specifically, CBO believes that “fewer lower-income people would obtain coverage through the non-group market under the legislation than under current law,” and that because “the tax credits under the legislation would tend to be larger than current law premium tax credits for many people with higher income,” the new subsidy regime “would tend to increase enrollment in the non-group market among higher-income people.”

In general, changes in the age-rating in the individual market, coupled with changes in the subsidy regime, lead CBO to conclude that “a larger share of enrollees in the non-group market would be younger people and a smaller share would be older people.” Overall spending on subsidies would be “significantly smaller under the legislation than under current law,” due to both smaller take-up of the subsidies and smaller per-beneficiary subsidies. CBO believes that subsidies in 2020 will equal about 60 percent of average premium subsidies under current law, and will equal about 50 percent of current law subsidies in 2026.

According to CBO, the State Stability Fund grants “would exert substantial downward pressure on premiums in the non-group market in 2020 and later years and would help encourage participation in the market by insurers.” However, CBO did note that effects may be determined by whether states elect to participate in the grant programs, and whether states’ activities directly affect the individual market for health insurance.

CBO believes that the bill would encourage employers to drop employer-sponsored health coverage—both due to the elimination of the employer mandate penalties, and the broader availability of subsidies to individuals at higher income levels than Obamacare. In part as a result, CBO scores a total of $70 billion in savings due to interaction effects—that is, individuals’ compensation moving from pre-tax health insurance to after-tax wages as employers drop coverage. However, CBO also believes that the lower level of subsidies compared to Obamacare—which would grow more slowly over time—coupled with less rich health coverage offered on the individual market would mitigate employers’ incentives to drop coverage.

In 2020, CBO believes the State Stability Fund grants “would contribute substantially to the stability of the non-group market,” and that “the non-group market is expected to be smaller in 2020 than in 2019 but then is expected to grow somewhat over the 2020-2026 period.”

Medicaid Changes:  Overall, CBO believes that about 5 million fewer individuals with enroll in Medicaid in 2018 (due largely to elimination of the individual mandate penalties), 9 million fewer individuals in 2020, and 14 million in 2026.

If the bill passes, CBO believes that coming changes taking effect in 2020 mean that “no additional states will expand eligibility, thereby reducing both enrollment in and spending on Medicaid,” because CBO’s current-law baselines assume that additional states will expand their programs by 2026. This change would lead to a reduction in estimated enrollment of approximately 5 million by 2026.

CBO believes that “some states that have already expanded their Medicaid programs would no longer offer that coverage, reducing the share of the newly eligible population residing in a state with expanded eligibility to about 30 percent in 2026.” (CBO believes roughly half of the Medicaid eligible population currently lives in one of the 31 states that have expanded eligibility—and that, absent changes, this percentage will increase to 80 percent in 2026.)

CBO believes that, once the “freeze” on the enhanced Medicaid match takes effect at the beginning of 2020, “about one-third of those enrolled as of December 31, 2019 would have maintained continuous eligibility two years later,” remaining eligible for the enhanced federal match. By the end of 2024 (i.e., five years after the “freeze” takes effect), the enhanced federal match would apply to under 5 percent of newly eligible enrollees.

With respect to the per capita caps on Medicaid, CBO believes that the CPI-medical inflation measure in the House bill would reduce spending slightly compared to CBO’s baseline projections: CPI-medical would increase at a 3.7 percent rate, compared to a 4.4 percent increase in Medicaid spending under current law. CBO believes states would adopt a mix of approaches to reflect the lower spending growth: increasing state spending; reducing payments to health care providers and plans; eliminating optional services; restricting eligibility; or improving program efficiency.

 

Where available, scores of specific provisions are integrated into the earlier summary of the legislation, which follows below.

Legislative Summary

On March 6, House leadership released a revised draft of their Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Energy and Commerce title is here, and the Ways and Means title is here.

A detailed summary of the bill is below, along with possible conservative concerns where applicable. Changes with the original leaked discussion draft (dated February 10) are noted where applicable. Where provisions in the bill were also included in the reconciliation bill passed by Congress early in 2016 (H.R. 3762, text available here), differences between the two versions, if any, are noted.

Of particular note: It is unclear whether this legislative language has been vetted with the Senate Parliamentarian. When the Senate considers budget reconciliation legislation—as it plans to do with the Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Parliamentarian plays a key role in determining whether provisions are budgetary in nature and can be included in the bill (which can pass with a 51-vote simple majority), and which provisions are not budgetary in nature and must be considered separately (i.e., require 60 votes to pass).

In the absence of a fully drafted bill and complete CBO score, it is entirely possible the Parliamentarian has not vetted this draft—which means provisions could change substantially, or even get stricken from the bill, due to procedural concerns as the process moves forward.

Title I—Energy and Commerce

Prevention and Public Health Fund:             Eliminates funding for the Obamacare prevention “slush fund,” and rescinds all unobligated balances. This language is substantially similar to Section 101 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. Saves $8.8 billion over ten years.

Community Health Centers:             Increases funding for community health centers by $422 million for Fiscal Year 2018—money intended to offset reductions in spending on Planned Parenthood affiliates (see “Federal Payments to States” below). The spending amount exceeds the $285 million provided in the leaked discussion draft. Language regarding community health centers was included in Section 102 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. Costs $422 million over ten years.

Federal Payments to States:             Imposes a one-year ban on federal funds flowing to certain entities. This provision would have the effect of preventing Medicaid funding of certain medical providers, including Planned Parenthood, so long as Planned Parenthood provides for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother). This language is virtually identical to Section 206 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. CBO believes that, after taking into account increased births (and Medicaid spending) due to lack of access to contraceptive care, this provision will save Medicaid a net of $156 million over ten years.

Medicaid:       The discussion draft varies significantly from the repeal of Medicaid expansion included in Section 207 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. The 2015/2016 reconciliation bill repealed both elements of the Medicaid expansion—the change in eligibility allowing able-bodied adults to join the program, and the enhanced (90-100%) federal match that states received for covering them.

By contrast, the House discussion draft retains eligibility for the able-bodied adult population—making this population optional for states to cover, rather than mandatory. (The Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius made Medicaid expansion optional for states.) Some conservatives may be concerned that this change represents a marked weakening of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill language, one that will entrench a massive expansion of Medicaid beyond its original focus on the most vulnerable in society.

With respect to the Medicaid match rate, the discussion draft reduces the enhanced federal match to states, effective December 31, 2019. The bill provides that states receiving the enhanced match for individuals enrolled by December 31, 2019 will continue to receive that enhanced federal match, provided they do not have a break in Medicaid coverage of longer than one month. (In the case of states that already expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults prior to Obamacare’s enactment, the bill provides for an 80 percent federal match for 2017 and all subsequent years.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that—rather than representing a true “freeze” that was advertised, one that would take effect immediately upon enactment—the language in this bill would give states a strong incentive to sign up many more individuals for Medicaid over the next three years, so they can qualify for the higher federal match as long as those individuals remain in the program.

The bill also repeals the requirement that Medicaid “benchmark” plans comply with Obamacare’s essential health benefits, also effective December 31, 2019.

The repeal of the Medicaid expansion, when coupled with the per-capita caps, will reduce Medicaid spending by a total of $880 billion over ten years. CBO did not provide granularity on the savings associated with each specific provision.

Finally, the bill repeals the Community First Choice Option, eliminating a six percent increase in the Medicaid match rate for some home and community-based services. This provision saves $12 billion over ten years.

DSH Payments:         Repeals the reduction in Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments. Non-expansion states would see their DSH payments restored immediately, whereas states that expanded Medicaid to the able-bodied under Obamacare would see their DSH payments restored in 2019. This language varies from both Section 208 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill and the leaked discussion draft. Spends $31.2 billion over ten years. In addition, increases in the number of uninsured will have the effect of increasing Medicare DSH payments, raising spending by an additional $43 billion over ten years.

Medicaid Program Integrity:             Beginning January 1, 2020, requires states to consider lottery winnings and other lump sum distributions as income for purposes of determining Medicaid eligibility. Effective October 2017, restricts retroactive eligibility in Medicaid to the month in which the individual applied for the program; current law requires three months of retroactive eligibility.

Requires, beginning six months after enactment, Medicaid applicants to provide verification of citizenship or immigration status prior to becoming presumptively eligible for benefits during the application process. With respect to eligibility for Medicaid long-term care benefits, reduces states’ ability to increase home equity thresholds that disqualify individuals from benefits; within six months of enactment, the threshold would be reduced to $500,000 in home equity nationwide, adjusted for inflation annually. These provisions were not included in the leaked discussion draft.

Eligibility Re-Determinations:             Requires states, beginning October 1, 2017, to re-determine eligibility for individuals qualifying for Medicaid on the basis of income at least every six months. This provision was not included in the leaked discussion draft. All told, this change, along with the program integrity provisions highlighted above, saves a total of $7.1 billion over ten years.

Non-Expansion State Funding:             Includes $10 billion ($2 billion per year) in funding for Medicaid non-expansion states, for calendar years 2018 through 2022. States can receive a 100 percent federal match (95 percent in 2022), up to their share of the allotment. A non-expansion state’s share of the $2 billion in annual allotments would be determined by its share of individuals below 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) when compared to non-expansion states. This funding would be excluded from the Medicaid per capita spending caps discussed in greater detail below. This provision was not included in the leaked discussion draft. Costs $8 billion over ten years.

Medicaid Per Capita Caps:              Creates a system of per capita spending caps for federal spending on Medicaid, beginning in Fiscal Year 2019. States that exceed their caps would have their federal match reduced in the following fiscal year.

The cap would include all spending on medical care provided through the Medicaid program, with the exception of DSH payments and Medicare cost-sharing paid for dual eligibles (individuals eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare). The cap would rise by medical CPI plus one percentage point annually.

While the cap would take effect in Fiscal Year 2019, the “base year” for determining cap levels would be Fiscal Year 2016 (which concluded on September 30, 2016), adjusted forward to 2019 levels using medical CPI. The inflation adjustment is lower than the leaked discussion draft, which set the level at medical CPI plus one percent.

Creates five classes of beneficiaries for whom the caps would apply: 1) elderly individuals over age 65; 2) blind and disabled beneficiaries; 3) children under age 19; 4) expansion enrollees (i.e., able-bodied adults enrolled under Obamacare); and 5) all other non-disabled, non-elderly, non-expansion adults (e.g., pregnant women, parents, etc.). Excludes State Children’s Health Insurance Plan enrollees, Indian Health Service participants, breast and cervical cancer services eligible individuals, and certain other partial benefit enrollees from the per capita caps.

Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reduce states’ annual growth rate by one percent for any year in which that state “fails to satisfactorily submit data” regarding its Medicaid program. Permits HHS to adjust cap amounts to reflect data errors, based on an appeal by the state, increasing cap levels by no more than two percent.

For the period including calendar quarters beginning on October 1, 2017 through October 1, 2019, increases the federal Medicaid match for certain state expenditures to improve data recording, including a 100 percent match in some instances.

Some conservatives may note the bill’s creation of a separate category of Obamacare expansion enrollees, and its use of 2016 as the “base year” for the per capita caps, benefit states who expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults under Obamacare. The most recent actuarial report on Medicaid noted that, while the actuary originally predicted that adults in the expansion population would cost less than existing populations, in reality each newly eligible enrollee cost 13.6% more than existing populations in 2016. Some states have used the 100% federal match for their expansion populations—i.e., “free money from Washington”—to raise provider reimbursement levels.

Some conservatives may therefore be concerned that the draft bill would retain the increased spending on adults in expansion states—extending the inequities caused by states that have used Obamacare’s “free money” to raise Medicaid spending while sending Washington the tab.

The per-capita caps, when coupled with the repeal of the Medicaid expansion, will reduce Medicaid spending by a total of $880 billion over ten years. CBO did not provide granularity on the savings associated with each specific provision.

Cost-Sharing Subsidies:      Repeals Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies, effective December 31, 2019. However, the bill does not include an appropriation for cost-sharing subsidies for 2017, 2018, or 2019. The House of Representatives filed suit against the Obama Administration (House v. Burwell) alleging the Administration acted unconstitutionally in spending funds on the cost-sharing subsidies without an explicit appropriation from Congress. The case is currently on hold pending settlement discussions between the Trump Administration and the House. Similar language regarding cost-sharing subsidies was included in Section 202(b) of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

On a related note, the bill does NOT include provisions regarding reinsurance, risk corridors, and risk adjustment, all of which were repealed by Section 104 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. While the reinsurance and risk corridor programs technically expired on December 31, 2016, insurers have outstanding claims regarding both programs. Some conservatives may be concerned that failing to repeal these provisions could represent an attempt to bail out health insurance companies.

Patient and State Stability Fund:              Creates a Patient and State Stability Fund, to be administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), for the years 2018 through 2026. Grants may be used to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions (whether through high-risk pools or another arrangement), stabilizing or reducing premiums, encouraging insurer participation, promoting access, directly paying providers, or subsidizing cost-sharing (i.e., co-payments, deductibles, etc.).

In the leaked discussion draft, the program in question was called the State Innovation Grant program. The new bill changes the program’s name, and includes additional language requiring the CMS Administrator, in the case of a state that does not apply for Fund dollars, to spend the money “for such state,” making “market stabilization payments” to insurers with claims over $50,000, using a specified reinsurance formula. Some conservatives may view this as a federal infringement on state sovereignty—Washington forcibly intervening in state insurance markets—to bail out health insurers.

Provides for $15 billion in funding for each of calendar years 2018 and 2019, followed by $10 billion for each of calendar years 2020 through 2026 ($100 billion total). Requires a short, one-time application from states describing their goals and objectives for use of the funding, which will be deemed approved within 60 days absent good cause.

For 2018 and 2019, funding would be provided to states on the basis of two factors. 85% of the funding would be determined via states’ relative claims costs, based on the most recent medical loss ratio (MLR) data. The remaining 15% of funding would be allocated to states 1) whose uninsured populations increased from 2013 through 2015 or 2) have fewer than three health insurers offering Exchange plans in 2017. This formula is a change from the leaked discussion draft, which determined funding based on average insurance premiums, and guaranteed every state at least a 0.5% share of funding ($75 million).

For 2020 through 2026, CMS would be charged with determining a formula that takes into account 1) states’ incurred claims, 2) the number of uninsured with incomes below poverty, and 3) the number of participating health insurers in each state market. The bill requires stakeholder consultation regarding the formula, which shall “reflect the goals of improving the health insurance risk pool, promoting a more competitive health insurance market, and increasing choice for health care consumers.” The formula language and criteria has been changed compared to the leaked discussion draft.

Requires that states provide a match for their grants in 2020 through 2026—7 percent of their grant in 2020, 14 percent in 2021, 21 percent in 2022, 28 percent in 2023, 35 percent in 2024, 42 percent in 2025, and 50 percent in 2026. For states that decline to apply for grants, requires a 10 percent match in 2020, 20 percent match in 2021, 30 percent match in 2022, 40 percent match in 2023, and 50 percent match in 2024 through 2026. In either case, the bill prohibits federal allocation should a state decline to provide its match.

Some conservatives may note the significant changes in the program when compared to the leaked discussion draft—let alone the program’s initial variation, proposed by House Republicans in their alternative to Obamacare in 2009. These changes have turned the program’s focus increasingly towards “stabilizing markets,” and subsidizing health insurers to incentivize continued participation in insurance markets. Some conservatives therefore may be concerned that this program amounts to a $100 billion bailout fund for insurers—one that could infringe upon state sovereignty.

This program spends a total of $80 billion over ten years, according to CBO.

Continuous Coverage:         Requires insurers, beginning after the 2018 open enrollment period (i.e., open enrollment for 2019, or special enrollment periods during the 2018 plan year), to increase premiums for individuals without continuous health insurance coverage. The premium could increase by 30 percent for individuals who have a coverage gap of more than 63 days during the previous 12 months. Insurers could maintain the 30 percent premium increase for a 12 month period. Requires individuals to show proof of continuous coverage, and requires insurers to provide said proof in the form of certificates. Some conservatives may be concerned that this provision maintains the federal intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare, rather than devolving insurance regulation back to the states.

Essential Health Benefits:              Permits states to develop essential health benefits—which include actuarial value and cost-sharing requirements—for insurance for all years after December 31, 2019.

Age Rating:   Changes the maximum variation in insurance markets from 3-to-1 (i.e., insurers can charge older applicants no more than three times younger applicants) to 5-to-1 effective January 1, 2018, with the option for states to provide for other age rating requirements. Some conservatives may be concerned that, despite the ability for states to opt out, this provision, by setting a default federal standard, maintains the intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare.

Special Enrollment Verification:                Removes language in the leaked discussion draft requiring verification of all special enrollment periods beginning for plan years after January 1, 2018, effectively codifying proposed regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month.

Transitional Policies:           Removes language in the leaked discussion draft permitting insurers who continued to offer pre-Obamacare health coverage under President Obama’s temporary “If you like your plan, you can keep it” fix to continue to offer those policies in perpetuity in the individual and small group markets outside the Exchanges.

Title II—Ways and Means

Subsidy Recapture:              Eliminates the repayment limit on Obamacare premium subsidies for the 2018 and 2019 plan years. Obamacare’s premium subsidies (which vary based upon income levels) are based on estimated income, which must be reconciled at year’s end during the tax filing season. Households with a major change in income or family status during the year (e.g., raise, promotion, divorce, birth, death) could qualify for significantly greater or smaller subsidies than the estimated subsidies they receive. While current law caps repayment amounts for households with incomes under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL, $98,400 for a family of four in 2017), the bill would eliminate the repayment limits for 2018 and 2019. This provision is similar to Section 201 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. Saves $4.9 billion over ten years.

Modifications to Obamacare Premium Subsidy:         Allows non-compliant and non-Exchange plans to qualify for Obamacare premium subsidies, with the exception of grandfathered health plans (i.e., those purchased prior to Obamacare’s enactment) and plans that cover abortions (although individuals receiving subsidies can purchase separate coverage for abortion). In a change from the leaked discussion draft, individuals with “grandmothered” plans—that is, those purchased after Obamacare’s enactment, but before the law’s major benefit mandates took effect in 2014—also cannot qualify for subsidies.

While individuals off the Exchanges can receive premium subsidies, they cannot receive these subsidies in advance—they would have to claim the subsidy back on their tax returns instead.

Modifies the existing Obamacare subsidy regime beginning in 2018, by including age as an additional factor for determining subsidy amounts. Younger individuals would have to spend a smaller percentage of income on health insurance than under current law, while older individuals would spend a higher percentage of income. For instance, an individual under age 29, making just under 400% FPL, would pay 4.3% of income on health insurance, whereas an individual between ages 60-64 at the same income level would pay 11.5% of income on health insurance. (Current law limits individuals to paying 9.69% of income on insurance, at all age brackets, for those with income just below 400% FPL.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that 1) these changes would make an already complex subsidy formula even more complicated; 2) could increase costs to taxpayers; and 3) distract from the purported goal of the legislation, which is repealing, not modifying or “fixing,” Obamacare. No independent score of the cost of the modified subsidy regime is available—that is, the CBO score did not provide a granular level of detail regarding these particular provisions in isolation.

Repeal of Tax Credits:         Repeals Obamacare’s premium and small business tax credits, effective January 1, 2020. This language is similar to Sections 202 and 203 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, with one major difference—the House bill provides for a three-year transition period, whereas the reconciliation bill provided a two-year transition period. Repeal of the subsidy regime saves a net of $673 billion (after taking into account the modifications to subsidies outlined above), while repeal of the small business tax credit saves an additional $8 billion.

In addition, CBO estimates an additional $70 billion of “interaction” savings—based largely on assumed reductions in employer-sponsored health coverage, which would see individuals receiving less compensation in the form of pre-tax health insurance and more compensation in the form of after-tax wages.

Abortion Coverage:             Clarifies that firms receiving the small business tax credit may not use that credit to purchase plans that cover abortion (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion).

Individual and Employer Mandates:             Sets the individual and employer mandate penalties to zero, for all years after December 31, 2015. This language is similar to Sections 204 and 205 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, except with respect to timing—the House bill zeroes out the penalties beginning with the previous tax year, whereas the reconciliation bill zeroed out penalties beginning with the current tax year. Reduces revenues by $38 billion over ten years in the case of the individual mandate, and $171 billion in the case of the employer mandate.

Repeal of Other Obamacare Taxes:             Repeals all other Obamacare taxes, effective January 1, 2018. Taxes repealed include (along with CBO/Joint Committee on Taxation revenue estimates over ten years):

  • Limitation on deductibility of salaries to insurance industry executives (lowers revenue by $400 million);
  • Tax on tanning services (lowers revenue by $600 million);
  • Tax on pharmaceuticals (lowers revenue by $24.8 billion);
  • Health insurer tax (lowers revenue by $144.7 billion);
  • Net investment tax (lowers revenue by $157.6 billion);
  • Tax on high-cost health plans (also known as the “Cadillac tax”)—but only through 2025 (lowers revenue by $48.7 billion);
  • Restrictions on use of Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Arrangements to pay for over-the-counter medications (lowers revenue by $5.5 billion);
  • Increased penalties on non-health care uses of Health Savings Account dollars (lowers revenue by $100 million);
  • Limits on Flexible Spending Arrangement contributions (lowers revenue by $18.6 billion);
  • Medical device tax (lowers revenue by $19.6 billion);
  • Elimination of deduction for employers who receive a subsidy from Medicare for offering retiree prescription drug coverage (lowers revenue by $1.7 billion);
  • Limitation on medical expenses as an itemized deduction (lowers revenue by $34.9 billion);
  • Medicare tax on “high-income” individuals (lowers revenue by $117.3 billion);

These provisions are all substantially similar to Sections 209 through 221 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. However, when compared to the leaked discussion draft, the bill delays repeal of the tax increases by one year, until the end of calendar year 2017. Additionally, the bill does NOT repeal the economic substance tax, which WAS repealed in Section 222 of the 2015/2016 bill, as well as the leaked discussion draft.

Refundable Tax Credit:       Creates a new, age-rated refundable tax credit for the purchase of health insurance. Credits total $2,000 for individuals under age 30, $2,500 for individuals aged 30-39, $3,000 for individuals aged 40-49, $3,500 for individuals aged 50-59, and $4,000 for individuals over age 60, up to a maximum credit of $14,000 per household. The credit would apply for 2020 and subsequent years, and increase every year by general inflation (i.e., CPI) plus one percent. Excess credit amounts can be deposited in individuals’ Health Savings Accounts.

When compared to the leaked discussion draft, the bill would also impose a means-test on the refundable credits. Individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes below $75,000, and families with incomes below $150,000, would qualify for the full credit. The credit would phase out linearly, at a 10 percent rate—every $1,000 of income would cause the subsidy to shrink by $100. Assuming the maximum credit possible ($14,000), the credit would phase out completely at income of $215,000 for an individual, and $290,000 for a family.

The credit may be used for any individual policy sold within a state, or unsubsidized COBRA continuation coverage. The credit may also not be used for grandfathered or “grandmothered” health plans—a change from the leaked discussion draft. The bill also increases penalties on erroneous claims for the credit, from 20 percent under current law for all tax credits to 25 percent for the new credit—a change from the leaked discussion draft.

Individuals may not use the credit to purchase plans that cover abortions (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion). The credit would be advanceable (i.e., paid before individuals file their taxes), and the Treasury would establish a program to provide credit payments directly to health insurers.

Individuals eligible for or participating in employer coverage, Part A of Medicare, Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Tricare, or health care sharing ministries cannot receive the credit; however, veterans eligible for but not enrolled in VA health programs can receive the credit. Only citizens and legal aliens qualify for the credit; individuals with seriously delinquent tax debt can have their credits withheld.

Some conservatives may be concerned that, by creating a new refundable tax credit, the bill would establish another source of entitlement spending at a time when our nation already faces significant fiscal difficulties.

Some conservatives may also note that, by introducing means-testing into the bill, the revised credit (when compared to the leaked discussion draft) by its very nature creates work disincentives and administrative complexities. However, whereas Obamacare includes several “cliffs”—where one additional dollar of income could result in the loss of thousands of dollars in subsidies—this credit phases out more gradually as income rises. That structure reduces the credit’s disincentives to work—but it by no means eliminates them. Costs $361 billion over ten years. The CBO score did not provide any granularity on the amount of the credit that represents revenue effects (i.e., tax cuts to individuals with income tax liability) versus outlay effects (i.e., spending on “refunds” to individuals who have no income tax liability).

Health Savings Accounts:  Increases contribution limits to HSAs, raising them from the current $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families in 2017 to the out-of-pocket maximum amounts (currently $6,550 for an individual and $13,100 for a family), effective January 2018. Allows both spouses to make catch-up contributions to the same Health Savings Account. Permits individuals who take up to 60 days to establish an HSA upon enrolling in HSA-eligible coverage to be reimbursed from their account for medical expenses. The increase in contribution limits would lower revenue by $18.6 billion, and the other two provisions would lower revenue by a combined $600 million.

Cap on Employer-Provided Health Coverage: Does NOT contain a proposed cap on the deductibility of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage included in the leaked discussion draft.

Why House Republicans Are Re-Writing Their Obamacare “Replacement”

On Friday, Politico reported that Republicans were considering ways to amend their Obamacare “replacement” legislation, by placing income limits on the bill’s new refundable tax credit for health insurance. The Politico story implied the income cap sought to prevent wealthy individuals like Warren Buffett from obtaining federal subsidies for health insurance, but in reality House staff are re-writing their legislation to correct a major flaw in its structure.

Based on my conversations with multiple sources close to the effort, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) had indicated to congressional staff that the prior House framework could see at least 10 million, and potentially up to 20 million, individuals losing employer-sponsored health insurance. Further, CBO stated that that House framework, even after including a refundable tax credit for health insurance, would not cover many more people than repealing Obamacare outright.

By comparison, Obamacare led to about 7 million plan cancellation notices in the fall of 2013. While those cancellations caused a major political firestorm, the framework the House released prior to the recess could cause a loss of employer coverage of several times that number. What’s more, that framework as described looks for all intents and purposes like a legislative orphan appealing to no one—neither moderates nor conservatives—within the Republican party:

  • A significant erosion of up to 10-20 million individuals with employer-provided health coverage;
  • A new entitlement—the refundable tax credits—that by and large wouldn’t expand coverage, but instead cause individuals currently in employer plans to switch to the credits;
  • More federal spending via the refundable tax credits;
  • A tax increase—a cap on the current exclusion for employer-provided health coverage—to pay for the new spending on the credits; and
  • An increase in the uninsured (compared to Obamacare) of at least 15 million—nearly as much as repealing the law outright.

Details of the bill are changing constantly, and no doubt House leadership will claim these figures pertain to prior drafts of the legislation. But even if those numbers reflect outdated drafts, the combination of major re-writes to the bill and the lack of a CBO score at any point in the process thus far should cause significant pause on Capitol Hill. Members are being asked to vote on legislation before knowing its full effects, or even how it will look in its final version.

Coverage Quicksand

According to CBO, the combination of a cap on the exclusion for employer-provided health insurance, coupled with an age-rated tax credit for insurance, created a dynamic where expanding health insurance coverage was all but impossible.

An age-rated credit provides much greater incentive for firms to drop coverage, because all workers, not just low-income ones, can qualify for the credit. Moreover, because an age-rated credit provides the same subsidy to all individuals, regardless of income, low-income enrollees—the only individuals who have enrolled on exchanges in significant numbers—would have much less financial incentive to purchase insurance than they do under Obamacare, hence the lower coverage numbers overall.

On their bill, House Republicans put themselves in coverage quicksand. The more they thrashed to get out of the quicksand—by increasing the subsidies or adjusting the cap on the employer exclusion, or both—the deeper they sank, by increasing the erosion of employer-sponsored insurance.

Means-Tested Credit

Moving to a means-tested credit would create the same disincentives to work—individuals taking fewer shifts, or working fewer hours, for fear of losing their subsidies—as Obamacare itself. Here’s what Speaker Ryan’s Better Way document, released last summer, said about the current law:

Obamacare penalizes work. The law’s employer mandate and definition of a ‘full-time’ employee play a significant role in reduced hours, wages, and jobs. Even more critically, Obamacare’s subsidies themselves are riddled with cliffs and phase-outs, and the law includes a direct tax on work. Taken as a whole, CBO found that the law’s policies discourage work in such a way that it will be as if 2 million full-time jobs vanish from the economy by 2025. Our plan would repeal those taxes and work disincentives and implement a flat, simple form of assistance that would grow the economy and ensure work pays.

If House Republicans have turned on a dime, and re-embraced means-tested credits after criticizing them for several years, their plan will have at least some of the same work disincentives as Obamacare. Moreover, a means-tested credit also creates administrative complexities—reconciling payments made based on estimated income with actual income at the end of the year—that make it tougher to implement, as the Obamacare experience has demonstrated.

Obamacare’s Moment of Truth

On Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul sparked a Twitter meme, searching through the Capitol for copies of House Republicans’ current version of “replace” legislation. While Paul raised a valid point about the need for a transparent process, he might have been better served to search for a CBO score of the legislation, for that will show where the rubber meets the road on the bill’s fiscal effects.

House leadership has yet to release any budgetary scores of their legislation, yet apparently plan on marking up the bill this week—before a CBO score becomes available. Given the ways in which several drafts have prompted CBO to warn about a massive erosion of employer-sponsored health coverage, the phrase Caveat emptor applies. Members who vote for a bill without knowing its full fiscal effects, yet will be held politically responsible for said effects, do so entirely at their own risk.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Summary of House Republicans’ “Repeal-and-Replace” Legislation

This evening, House leadership released a revised draft of their Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Energy and Commerce title is here, and the Ways and Means title is here.

A detailed summary of the bill is below, along with possible conservative concerns where applicable. Changes with the original leaked discussion draft (dated February 10) are noted where applicable. Where provisions in the bill were also included in the reconciliation bill passed by Congress early in 2016 (H.R. 3762, text available here), differences between the two versions, if any, are noted.

Of particular note: It is unclear whether this legislative language has been vetted with the Senate Parliamentarian. When the Senate considers budget reconciliation legislation—as it plans to do with the Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Parliamentarian plays a key role in determining whether provisions are budgetary in nature and can be included in the bill (which can pass with a 51-vote simple majority), and which provisions are not budgetary in nature and must be considered separately (i.e., require 60 votes to pass).

In the absence of a fully drafted bill and complete CBO score, it is entirely possible the Parliamentarian has not vetted this draft—which means provisions could change substantially, or even get stricken from the bill, due to procedural concerns as the process moves forward.

Title I—Energy and Commerce

Prevention and Public Health Fund:             Eliminates funding for the Obamacare prevention “slush fund,” and rescinds all unobligated balances. This language is substantially similar to Section 101 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Community Health Centers:             Increases funding for community health centers by $422 million for Fiscal Year 2018—money intended to offset reductions in spending on Planned Parenthood affiliates (see “Federal Payments to States” below). The spending amount exceeds the $285 million provided in the leaked discussion draft. Language regarding community health centers was included in Section 102 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Federal Payments to States:             Imposes a one-year ban on federal funds flowing to certain entities. This provision would have the effect of preventing Medicaid funding of certain medical providers, including Planned Parenthood, so long as Planned Parenthood provides for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother). This language is virtually identical to Section 206 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Medicaid:       The discussion draft varies significantly from the repeal of Medicaid expansion included in Section 207 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. The 2015/2016 reconciliation bill repealed both elements of the Medicaid expansion—the change in eligibility allowing able-bodied adults to join the program, and the enhanced (90-100%) federal match that states received for covering them.

By contrast, the House discussion draft retains eligibility for the able-bodied adult population—making this population optional for states to cover, rather than mandatory. (The Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius made Medicaid expansion optional for states.) Some conservatives may be concerned that this change represents a marked weakening of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill language, one that will entrench a massive expansion of Medicaid beyond its original focus on the most vulnerable in society.

With respect to the Medicaid match rate, the discussion draft reduces the enhanced federal match to states, effective December 31, 2019. The bill provides that states receiving the enhanced match for individuals enrolled by December 31, 2019 will continue to receive that enhanced federal match, provided they do not have a break in Medicaid coverage of longer than one month. (In the case of states that already expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults prior to Obamacare’s enactment, the bill provides for an 80 percent federal match for 2017 and all subsequent years.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that—rather than representing a true “freeze” that was advertised, one that would take effect immediately upon enactment—the language in this bill would give states a strong incentive to sign up many more individuals for Medicaid over the next three years, so they can qualify for the higher federal match as long as those individuals remain in the program.

Finally, the bill repeals the requirement that Medicaid “benchmark” plans comply with Obamacare’s essential health benefits, also effective December 31, 2019.

DSH Payments:         Repeals the reduction in Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments. Non-expansion states would see their DSH payments restored immediately, whereas states that expanded Medicaid to the able-bodied under Obamacare would see their DSH payments restored in 2019. This language varies from both Section 208 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill and the leaked discussion draft.

Medicaid Program Integrity:             Beginning January 1, 2020, requires states to consider lottery winnings and other lump sum distributions as income for purposes of determining Medicaid eligibility. Effective October 2017, restricts retroactive eligibility in Medicaid to the month in which the individual applied for the program; current law requires three months of retroactive eligibility.

Requires, beginning six months after enactment, Medicaid applicants to provide verification of citizenship or immigration status prior to becoming presumptively eligible for benefits during the application process. With respect to eligibility for Medicaid long-term care benefits, reduces states’ ability to increase home equity thresholds that disqualify individuals from benefits; within six months of enactment, the threshold would be reduced to $500,000 in home equity nationwide, adjusted for inflation annually. These provisions were not included in the leaked discussion draft.

Non-Expansion State Funding:             Includes $10 billion ($2 billion per year) in funding for Medicaid non-expansion states, for calendar years 2018 through 2022. States can receive a 100 percent federal match (95 percent in 2022), up to their share of the allotment. A non-expansion state’s share of the $2 billion in annual allotments would be determined by its share of individuals below 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL) when compared to non-expansion states. This funding would be excluded from the Medicaid per capita spending caps discussed in greater detail below. This provision was not included in the leaked discussion draft.

Eligibility Re-Determinations:             Requires states, beginning October 1, 2017, to re-determine eligibility for individuals qualifying for Medicaid on the basis of income at least every six months. This provision was not included in the leaked discussion draft.

Medicaid Per Capita Caps:              Creates a system of per capita spending caps for federal spending on Medicaid, beginning in Fiscal Year 2019. States that exceed their caps would have their federal match reduced in the following fiscal year.

The cap would include all spending on medical care provided through the Medicaid program, with the exception of DSH payments and Medicare cost-sharing paid for dual eligibles (individuals eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare). The cap would rise by medical CPI plus one percentage point annually.

While the cap would take effect in Fiscal Year 2019, the “base year” for determining cap levels would be Fiscal Year 2016 (which concluded on September 30, 2016), adjusted forward to 2019 levels using medical CPI. The adjustment was reduced from medical CPI plus one percentage point in the leaked discussion draft.

Creates five classes of beneficiaries for whom the caps would apply: 1) elderly individuals over age 65; 2) blind and disabled beneficiaries; 3) children under age 19; 4) expansion enrollees (i.e., able-bodied adults enrolled under Obamacare); and 5) all other non-disabled, non-elderly, non-expansion adults (e.g., pregnant women, parents, etc.). Excludes State Children’s Health Insurance Plan enrollees, Indian Health Service participants, breast and cervical cancer services eligible individuals, and certain other partial benefit enrollees from the per capita caps.

Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reduce states’ annual growth rate by one percent for any year in which that state “fails to satisfactorily submit data” regarding its Medicaid program. Permits HHS to adjust cap amounts to reflect data errors, based on an appeal by the state, increasing cap levels by no more than two percent.

For the period including calendar quarters beginning on October 1, 2017 through October 1, 2019, increases the federal Medicaid match for certain state expenditures to improve data recording, including a 100 percent match in some instances.

Some conservatives may note the bill’s creation of a separate category of Obamacare expansion enrollees, and its use of 2016 as the “base year” for the per capita caps, benefit states who expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults under Obamacare. The most recent actuarial report on Medicaid noted that, while the actuary originally predicted that adults in the expansion population would cost less than existing populations, in reality each newly eligible enrollee cost 13.6% more than existing populations in 2016. Some states have used the 100% federal match for their expansion populations—i.e., “free money from Washington”—to raise provider reimbursement levels.

Some conservatives may therefore be concerned that the draft bill would retain the increased spending on adults in expansion states—extending the inequities caused by states that have used Obamacare’s “free money” to raise Medicaid spending while sending Washington the tab.

Cost-Sharing Subsidies:      Repeals Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies, effective December 31, 2019. However, the bill does not include an appropriation for cost-sharing subsidies for 2017, 2018, or 2019. The House of Representatives filed suit against the Obama Administration (House v. Burwell) alleging the Administration acted unconstitutionally in spending funds on the cost-sharing subsidies without an explicit appropriation from Congress. The case is currently on hold pending settlement discussions between the Trump Administration and the House. Similar language regarding cost-sharing subsidies was included in Section 202(b) of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

On a related note, the bill does NOT include provisions regarding reinsurance, risk corridors, and risk adjustment, all of which were repealed by Section 104 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. While the reinsurance and risk corridor programs technically expired on December 31, 2016, insurers have outstanding claims regarding both programs. Some conservatives may be concerned that failing to repeal these provisions could represent an attempt to bail out health insurance companies.

Patient and State Stability Fund:              Creates a Patient and State Stability Fund, to be administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), for the years 2018 through 2026. Grants may be used to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions (whether through high-risk pools or another arrangement), stabilizing or reducing premiums, encouraging insurer participation, promoting access, directly paying providers, or subsidizing cost-sharing (i.e., co-payments, deductibles, etc.).

In the leaked discussion draft, the program in question was called the State Innovation Grant program. The new bill changes the program’s name, and includes additional language requiring the CMS Administrator, in the case of a state that does not apply for Fund dollars, to spend the money “for such state,” making “market stabilization payments” to insurers with claims over $50,000, using a specified reinsurance formula. Some conservatives may view this as a federal infringement on state sovereignty—Washington forcibly intervening in state insurance markets—to bail out health insurers.

Provides for $15 billion in funding for each of calendar years 2018 and 2019, followed by $10 billion for each of calendar years 2020 through 2026 ($100 billion total). Requires a short, one-time application from states describing their goals and objectives for use of the funding, which will be deemed approved within 60 days absent good cause.

For 2018 and 2019, funding would be provided to states on the basis of two factors. 85% of the funding would be determined via states’ relative claims costs, based on the most recent medical loss ratio (MLR) data. The remaining 15% of funding would be allocated to states 1) whose uninsured populations increased from 2013 through 2015 or 2) have fewer than three health insurers offering Exchange plans in 2017. This formula is a change from the leaked discussion draft, which determined funding based on average insurance premiums, and guaranteed every state at least a 0.5% share of funding ($75 million).

For 2020 through 2026, CMS would be charged with determining a formula that takes into account 1) states’ incurred claims, 2) the number of uninsured with incomes below poverty, and 3) the number of participating health insurers in each state market. The bill requires stakeholder consultation regarding the formula, which shall “reflect the goals of improving the health insurance risk pool, promoting a more competitive health insurance market, and increasing choice for health care consumers.” The formula language and criteria has been changed compared to the leaked discussion draft.

Requires that states provide a match for their grants in 2020 through 2026—7 percent of their grant in 2020, 14 percent in 2021, 21 percent in 2022, 28 percent in 2023, 35 percent in 2024, 42 percent in 2025, and 50 percent in 2026. For states that decline to apply for grants, requires a 10 percent match in 2020, 20 percent match in 2021, 30 percent match in 2022, 40 percent match in 2023, and 50 percent match in 2024 through 2026. In either case, the bill prohibits federal allocation should a state decline to provide its match.

Some conservatives may note the significant changes in the program when compared to the leaked discussion draft—let alone the program’s initial variation, proposed by House Republicans in their alternative to Obamacare in 2009. These changes have turned the program’s focus increasingly towards “stabilizing markets,” and subsidizing health insurers to incentivize continued participation in insurance markets. Some conservatives therefore may be concerned that this program amounts to a $100 billion bailout fund for insurers—one that could infringe upon state sovereignty.

Continuous Coverage:         Requires insurers, beginning after the 2018 open enrollment period (i.e., open enrollment for 2019, or special enrollment periods during the 2018 plan year), to increase premiums for individuals without continuous health insurance coverage. The premium could increase by 30 percent for individuals who have a coverage gap of more than 63 days during the previous 12 months. Insurers could maintain the 30 percent premium increase for a 12 month period. Requires individuals to show proof of continuous coverage, and requires insurers to provide said proof in the form of certificates. Some conservatives may be concerned that this provision maintains the federal intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare, rather than devolving insurance regulation back to the states.

Essential Health Benefits:              Permits states to develop essential health benefits—which include actuarial value and cost-sharing requirements—for insurance for all years after December 31, 2019.

Age Rating:   Changes the maximum variation in insurance markets from 3-to-1 (i.e., insurers can charge older applicants no more than three times younger applicants) to 5-to-1 effective January 1, 2018, with the option for states to provide for other age rating requirements. Some conservatives may be concerned that, despite the ability for states to opt out, this provision, by setting a default federal standard, maintains the intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare.

Special Enrollment Verification:                Removes language in the leaked discussion draft requiring verification of all special enrollment periods beginning for plan years after January 1, 2018, effectively codifying proposed regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month.

Transitional Policies:           Removes language in the leaked discussion draft permitting insurers who continued to offer pre-Obamacare health coverage under President Obama’s temporary “If you like your plan, you can keep it” fix to continue to offer those policies in perpetuity in the individual and small group markets outside the Exchanges.

Title II—Ways and Means

Subsidy Recapture:              Eliminates the repayment limit on Obamacare premium subsidies for the 2018 and 2019 plan years. Obamacare’s premium subsidies (which vary based upon income levels) are based on estimated income, which must be reconciled at year’s end during the tax filing season. Households with a major change in income or family status during the year (e.g., raise, promotion, divorce, birth, death) could qualify for significantly greater or smaller subsidies than the estimated subsidies they receive. While current law caps repayment amounts for households with incomes under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL, $98,400 for a family of four in 2017), the bill would eliminate the repayment limits for 2018 and 2019. This provision is similar to Section 201 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Modifications to Obamacare Premium Subsidy:         Allows non-compliant and non-Exchange plans to qualify for Obamacare premium subsidies, with the exception of grandfathered health plans (i.e., those purchased prior to Obamacare’s enactment) and plans that cover abortions (although individuals receiving subsidies can purchase separate coverage for abortion). In a change from the leaked discussion draft, individuals with “grandmothered” plans—that is, those purchased after Obamacare’s enactment, but before the law’s major benefit mandates took effect in 2014—also cannot qualify for subsidies.

While individuals off the Exchanges can receive premium subsidies, they cannot receive these subsidies in advance—they would have to claim the subsidy back on their tax returns instead.

Modifies the existing Obamacare subsidy regime beginning in 2018, by including age as an additional factor for determining subsidy amounts. Younger individuals would have to spend a smaller percentage of income on health insurance than under current law, while older individuals would spend a higher percentage of income. For instance, an individual under age 29, making just under 400% FPL, would pay 4.3% of income on health insurance, whereas an individual between ages 60-64 at the same income level would pay 11.5% of income on health insurance. (Current law limits individuals to paying 9.69% of income on insurance, at all age brackets, for those with income just below 400% FPL.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that 1) these changes would make an already complex subsidy formula even more complicated; 2) could increase costs to taxpayers; and 3) distract from the purported goal of the legislation, which is repealing, not modifying or “fixing,” Obamacare.

Repeal of Tax Credits:         Repeals Obamacare’s premium and small business tax credits, effective January 1, 2020. This language is similar to Sections 202 and 203 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, with one major difference—the House bill provides for a three-year transition period, whereas the reconciliation bill provided a two-year transition period.

Abortion Coverage:             Clarifies that firms receiving the small business tax credit may not use that credit to purchase plans that cover abortion (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion).

Individual and Employer Mandates:             Sets the individual and employer mandate penalties to zero, for all years after December 31, 2015. This language is similar to Sections 204 and 205 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, except with respect to timing—the House bill zeroes out the penalties beginning with the previous tax year, whereas the reconciliation bill zeroed out penalties beginning with the current tax year.

Repeal of Other Obamacare Taxes:             Repeals all other Obamacare taxes, effective January 1, 2018, including:

  • Limitation on deductibility of salaries to insurance industry executives;
  • Tax on tanning services;
  • Tax on pharmaceuticals;
  • Health insurer tax;
  • Net investment tax;
  • Tax on high-cost health plans (also known as the “Cadillac tax”)—but only through 2025;
  • Restrictions on use of Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Arrangements to pay for over-the-counter medications;
  • Increased penalties on non-health care uses of Health Savings Account dollars;
  • Limits on Flexible Spending Arrangement contributions;
  • Medical device tax;
  • Elimination of deduction for employers who receive a subsidy from Medicare for offering retiree prescription drug coverage;
  • Limitation on medical expenses as an itemized deduction;
  • Medicare tax on “high-income” individuals;

These provisions are all substantially similar to Sections 209 through 221 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. However, when compared to the leaked discussion draft, the bill delays repeal of the tax increases by one year, until the end of calendar year 2017. Additionally, the bill does NOT repeal the economic substance tax, which WAS repealed in Section 222 of the 2015/2016 bill, as well as the leaked discussion draft.

Refundable Tax Credit:       Creates a new, age-rated refundable tax credit for the purchase of health insurance. Credits total $2,000 for individuals under age 30, $2,500 for individuals aged 30-39, $3,000 for individuals aged 40-49, $3,500 for individuals aged 50-59, and $4,000 for individuals over age 60, up to a maximum credit of $14,000 per household. The credit would apply for 2020 and subsequent years, and increase every year by general inflation (i.e., CPI) plus one percent. Excess credit amounts can be deposited in individuals’ Health Savings Accounts.

When compared to the leaked discussion draft, the bill would also impose a means-test on the refundable credits. Individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes below $75,000, and families with incomes below $150,000, would qualify for the full credit. The credit would phase out linearly, at a 10 percent rate—every $1,000 of income would cause the subsidy to shrink by $100. Assuming the maximum credit possible ($4,000 for an individual, $14,000 for a family), the credit would phase out completely at income of $115,000 for an individual, and $290,000 for a family.

The credit may be used for any individual policy sold within a state, or unsubsidized COBRA continuation coverage. The credit may also not be used for grandfathered or “grandmothered” health plans—a change from the leaked discussion draft. The bill also increases penalties on erroneous claims for the credit, from 20 percent under current law for all tax credits to 25 percent for the new credit—a change from the leaked discussion draft.

Individuals may not use the credit to purchase plans that cover abortions (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion). The credit would be advanceable (i.e., paid before individuals file their taxes), and the Treasury would establish a program to provide credit payments directly to health insurers.

Individuals eligible for or participating in employer coverage, Part A of Medicare, Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Tricare, or health care sharing ministries cannot receive the credit; however, veterans eligible for but not enrolled in VA health programs can receive the credit. Only citizens and legal aliens qualify for the credit; individuals with seriously delinquent tax debt can have their credits withheld.

Some conservatives may be concerned that, by creating a new refundable tax credit, the bill would establish another source of entitlement spending at a time when our nation already faces significant fiscal difficulties.

Some conservatives may also note that, by introducing means-testing into the bill, the revised credit (when compared to the leaked discussion draft) by its very nature creates work disincentives and administrative complexities. However, whereas Obamacare includes several “cliffs”—where one additional dollar of income could result in the loss of thousands of dollars in subsidies—this credit phases out more gradually as income rises. That structure reduces the credit’s disincentives to work—but it by no means eliminates them.

Health Savings Accounts:  Increases contribution limits to HSAs, raising them from the current $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families in 2017 to the out-of-pocket maximum amounts (currently $6,550 for an individual and $13,100 for a family), effective January 2018. Allows both spouses to make catch-up contributions to the same Health Savings Account. Permits individuals who take up to 60 days to establish an HSA upon enrolling in HSA-eligible coverage to be reimbursed from their account for medical expenses.

Cap on Employer-Provided Health Coverage: Does NOT contain a proposed cap on the deductibility of employer-sponsored health insurance coverage included in the leaked discussion draft.

A PDF version of this document is available at the Texas Public Policy Foundation website.

Summary of House Republicans’ (Leaked) Discussion Draft

On Friday, Politico released a leaked version of draft budget reconciliation legislation circulating among House staff—a version of House Republicans’ Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill. The discussion draft is time-stamped on the afternoon of Friday February 10—and according to my sources has been changed in the two weeks since then—but represents a glimpse into where House leadership was headed going into the President’s Day recess.

A detailed summary of the bill is below, along with possible conservative concerns where applicable. Where provisions in the discussion draft were also included in the reconciliation bill passed by Congress early in 2016 (H.R. 3762, text available here), differences between the two versions, if any, are noted. In general, however, whereas the prior reconciliation bill sunset Obamacare’s entitlements after a two-year transition period, the discussion draft would sunset them at the end of calendar year 2019—nearly three years from now.

Of particular note: It is unclear whether this legislative language has been vetted with the Senate Parliamentarian. When the Senate considers budget reconciliation legislation—as it plans to do with the Obamacare “repeal-and-replace” bill—the Parliamentarian plays a key role in determining whether provisions are budgetary in nature and can be included in the bill (which can pass with a 51-vote simple majority), and which provisions are not budgetary in nature and must be considered separately (i.e., require 60 votes to pass).

In the absence of a fully drafted bill and complete CBO score, it is entirely possible the Parliamentarian has not vetted this discussion draft—which means provisions could change substantially, or even get stricken from the bill, due to procedural concerns as the process moves forward.

Title I—Energy and Commerce

Prevention and Public Health Fund:             Eliminates funding for the Obamacare prevention “slush fund,” and rescinds all unobligated balances. This language is substantially similar to Section 101 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Community Health Centers:             Increases funding for community health centers by $285 million for Fiscal Year 2018—money intended to offset reductions in spending on Planned Parenthood affiliates (see “Federal Payments to States” below). A parenthetical note indicates intent to add Hyde amendment restrictions, to ensure this mandatory funding for health centers—which occurs outside their normal stream of funding through discretionary appropriations—retains prohibitions on federal funding of abortions. Language regarding community health centers was included in Section 102 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Medicaid:       The discussion draft varies significantly from the repeal of Medicaid expansion included in Section 207 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. The 2015/2016 reconciliation bill repealed both elements of the Medicaid expansion—the change in eligibility allowing able-bodied adults to join the program, and the enhanced (90-100%) federal match that states received for covering them.

By contrast, the House discussion draft retains eligibility for the able-bodied adult population—making this population optional for states to cover, rather than mandatory. (The Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius made Medicaid expansion optional for states.) Some conservatives may be concerned that this change represents a marked weakening of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill language, one that will entrench a massive expansion of Medicaid beyond its original focus on the most vulnerable in society.

With respect to the Medicaid match rate, the discussion draft reduces the enhanced federal match to states, effective December 31, 2019. The bill provides that states receiving the enhanced match for individuals enrolled by December 31, 2019 will continue to receive that enhanced federal match, provided they do not have a break in Medicaid coverage of longer than one month. (In the case of states that already expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults prior to Obamacare’s enactment, the bill provides for an 80 percent federal match for 2017 and all subsequent years.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that—rather than representing a true “freeze” that was advertised, one that would take effect immediately upon enactment—the language in this bill would give states a strong incentive to sign up many more individuals for Medicaid over the next three years, so they can qualify for the higher federal match as long as those individuals remain in the program.

Finally, the bill repeals the requirement that Medicaid “benchmark” plans comply with Obamacare’s essential health benefits, also effective December 31, 2019.

DSH Payments:         Repeals the reduction in Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments. This language is identical to Section 208 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Cost-Sharing Subsidies:      Repeals Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies, effective December 31, 2019 (the year is noted in brackets, however, suggesting it may change). However, the bill does not include an appropriation for cost-sharing subsidies for 2017, 2018, or 2019. The House of Representatives filed suit against the Obama Administration (House v. Burwell) alleging the Administration acted unconstitutionally in spending funds on the cost-sharing subsidies without an explicit appropriation from Congress. The case is currently on hold pending settlement discussions between the Trump Administration and the House. Similar language regarding cost-sharing subsidies was included in Section 202(b) of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

On a related note, the House’s draft bill does NOT include provisions regarding reinsurance, risk corridors, and risk adjustment, all of which were repealed by Section 104 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill. While the reinsurance and risk corridor programs technically expired on December 31, 2016, insurers have outstanding claims regarding both programs. Some conservatives may be concerned that failing to repeal these provisions could represent an attempt to bail out health insurance companies.

Medicaid Per Capita Caps:              Creates a system of per capita spending caps for federal spending on Medicaid, beginning in Fiscal Year 2019. States that exceed their caps would have their federal match reduced in the following fiscal year.

The cap would include all spending on medical care provided through the Medicaid program, with the exception of DSH payments and Medicare cost-sharing paid for dual eligibles (individuals eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare). The cap would rise by medical CPI plus one percentage point annually.

While the cap would take effect in Fiscal Year 2019, the “base year” for determining cap levels would be Fiscal Year 2016 (which concluded on September 30, 2016), adjusted forward to 2019 levels using medical CPI plus one percentage point.

Creates five classes of beneficiaries for whom the caps would apply: 1) elderly individuals over age 65; 2) blind and disabled beneficiaries; 3) children under age 19; 4) expansion enrollees (i.e., able-bodied adults enrolled under Obamacare); and 5) all other non-disabled, non-elderly, non-expansion adults (e.g., pregnant women, parents, etc.). Excludes State Children’s Health Insurance Plan enrollees, Indian Health Service participants, breast and cervical cancer services eligible individuals, and certain other partial benefit enrollees from the per capita caps.

Requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reduce states’ annual growth rate by one percent for any year in which that state “fails to satisfactorily submit data” regarding its Medicaid program. Permits HHS to adjust cap amounts to reflect data errors, based on an appeal by the state, increasing cap levels by no more than two percent.

For the period including calendar quarters beginning on October 1, 2017 through October 1, 2019, increases the federal Medicaid match for certain state expenditures to improve data recording, including a 100 percent match in some instances.

Some conservatives may note the bill’s creation of a separate category of Obamacare expansion enrollees, and its use of 2016 as the “base year” for the per capita caps, benefit states who expanded Medicaid to able-bodied adults under Obamacare. The most recent actuarial report on Medicaid noted that, while the actuary originally predicted that adults in the expansion population would cost less than existing populations, in reality each newly eligible enrollee cost 13.6% more than existing populations in 2016. Many states have used the 100% federal match for their expansion populations—i.e., “free money from Washington”—to raise provider reimbursement levels.

Some conservatives may therefore be concerned that the draft bill would retain the increased spending on adults in expansion states—extending in perpetuity the inequities caused by states that have used Obamacare’s “free money” to raise Medicaid spending while sending Washington the tab.

Federal Payments to States:             Imposes a one-year ban on federal funds flowing to certain entities. This provision would have the effect of preventing Medicaid funding of certain medical providers, including Planned Parenthood, so long as Planned Parenthood provides for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother). This language is virtually identical to Section 206 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

State Innovation Grants:    Creates a new program of State Innovation Grants, to be administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for the years 2018 through 2026. Grants may be used to cover individuals with pre-existing conditions (whether through high-risk pools or another arrangement), stabilizing or reducing premiums, encouraging insurer participation, promoting access, directly paying providers, or subsidizing cost-sharing (i.e., co-payments, deductibles, etc.). A similar program was first proposed by House Republicans in their alternative to Obamacare in 2009.

Provides for $15 billion in funding for each of calendar years 2018 and 2019, followed by $10 billion for each of calendar years 2020 through 2026 ($100 billion total). Requires a short, one-time application from states describing their goals and objectives for use of the funding, which will be deemed approved within 60 days absent good cause.

For 2018 and 2019, funding would be provided to states on the basis of relative costs, determined by the number of Exchange enrollees and the extent to which individual insurance premiums in the state exceed the national average. Every state would receive at least 0.5% of the national total (at least $75 million in 2018 and 2019).

For 2020 through 2026, CMS would be charged with determining a formula that takes into account the percentage of low-income residents in the state (the bill text includes in brackets three possible definitions of “low-income”—138%, 250%, or 300% of the federal poverty level) and the number of residents without health insurance.

Requires that states provide a match for their grants in 2020 through 2026—7 percent of their grant in 2020, 14 percent in 2021, 21 percent in 2022, 28 percent in 2023, 35 percent in 2024, 42 percent in 2025, and 50 percent in 2026.

Continuous Coverage:         Requires insurers, beginning after the 2018 open enrollment period (i.e., open enrollment for 2019, or special enrollment periods during the 2018 plan year), to increase premiums for individuals without continuous health insurance coverage. The premium could increase by 30 percent for individuals who have a coverage gap of more than 63 days during the previous 12 months. Insurers could maintain the 30 percent premium increase for a 12 month period. Requires individuals to show proof of continuous coverage, and requires insurers to provide said proof in the form of certificates. Some conservatives may be concerned that this provision maintains the federal intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare, rather than devolving insurance regulation back to the states.

Essential Health Benefits:              Permits states to develop essential health benefits for insurance for all years after December 31, 2019.

Age Rating:   Changes the maximum variation in insurance markets from 3-to-1 (i.e., insurers can charge older applicants no more than three times younger applicants) to 5-to-1 effective January 1, 2018, with the option for states to provide for other age rating requirements. Some conservatives may be concerned that, despite the ability for states to opt out, this provision, by setting a default federal standard, maintains the intrusion over insurance markets exacerbated by Obamacare.

Special Enrollment Verification:               Requires verification of all special enrollment periods beginning for plan years after January 1, 2018. This provision would effectively codify proposed regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month. Some conservatives may be concerned about the continued federal intrusion over what had heretofore been a matter left to state regulation, and question the need to verify enrollment in Exchanges, given that the underlying legislation was intended to repeal Obamacare—and thus the Exchanges—entirely.

Transitional Policies:          Permits insurers who continued to offer pre-Obamacare health coverage under President Obama’s temporary “If you like your plan, you can keep it” fix to continue to offer those policies in perpetuity in the individual and small group markets outside the Exchanges.

Title II—Ways and Means

Subsidy Recapture:              Eliminates the repayment limit on Obamacare premium subsidies for the 2018 and 2019 plan years. Obamacare’s premium subsidies (which vary based upon income levels) are based on estimated income, which must be reconciled at year’s end during the tax filing season. Households with a major change in income or family status during the year (e.g., raise, promotion, divorce, birth, death) could qualify for significantly greater or smaller subsidies than the estimated subsidies they receive. While current law caps repayment amounts for households with incomes under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL, $98,400 for a family of four in 2017), the bill would eliminate the repayment limits for 2018 and 2019. This provision is similar to Section 201 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Modifications to Obamacare Premium Subsidy:         Allows non-compliant and non-Exchange plans to qualify for Obamacare premium subsidies, with the exception of grandfathered health plans (i.e., those purchased prior to Obamacare’s enactment) and plans that cover abortions (although individuals receiving subsidies can purchase separate coverage for abortion). While individuals off the Exchanges can receive premium subsidies, they cannot receive these subsidies in advance—they would have to claim the subsidy back on their tax returns instead. Only citizens and legal aliens could receive subsidies.

Modifies the existing Obamacare subsidy regime beginning in 2018, by including age as an additional factor for determining subsidy amounts. Younger individuals would have to spend a smaller percentage of income on health insurance than under current law, while older individuals would spend a higher percentage of income. For instance, an individual under age 29, making just under 400% FPL, would pay 4.3% of income on health insurance, whereas an individual between ages 60-64 at the same income level would pay 11.5% of income on health insurance. (Current law limits individuals to paying 9.69% of income on insurance, at all age brackets, for those with income just below 400% FPL.)

Some conservatives may be concerned that 1) these changes would make an already complex subsidy formula even more complicated; 2) could increase costs to taxpayers; and 3) distract from the purported goal of the legislation, which is repealing, not modifying or “fixing,” Obamacare.

Repeal of Tax Credits:         Repeals Obamacare’s premium and small business tax credits, effective January 1, 2020. This language is similar to Sections 202 and 203 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, with one major difference—the House discussion draft provides for a three-year transition period, whereas the reconciliation bill provided a two-year transition period.

Individual and Employer Mandates:             Sets the individual and employer mandate penalties to zero, for all years after December 31, 2015. This language is similar to Sections 204 and 205 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill, except with respect to timing—the House discussion draft zeroes out the penalties beginning with the previous tax year, whereas the reconciliation bill zeroed out penalties beginning with the current tax year.

Repeal of Other Obamacare Taxes:             Repeals all other Obamacare taxes, effective January 1, 2017, including:

  • Tax on high-cost health plans (also known as the “Cadillac tax”);
  • Restrictions on use of Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Arrangements to pay for over-the-counter medications;
  • Increased penalties on non-health care uses of Health Savings Account dollars;
  • Limits on Flexible Spending Arrangement contributions;
  • Tax on pharmaceuticals;
  • Medical device tax;
  • Health insurer tax;
  • Elimination of deduction for employers who receive a subsidy from Medicare for offering retiree prescription drug coverage;
  • Limitation on medical expenses as an itemized deduction;
  • Medicare tax on “high-income” individuals;
  • Tax on tanning services;
  • Net investment tax;
  • Limitation on deductibility of salaries to insurance industry executives; and
  • Economic substance doctrine.

These provisions are all substantially similar to Sections 209 through 222 of the 2015/2016 reconciliation bill.

Refundable Tax Credit:       Creates a new, age-rated refundable tax credit for the purchase of health insurance. Credits total $2,000 for individuals under age 30, $2,500 for individuals aged 30-39, $3,000 for individuals aged 40-49, $3,500 for individuals aged 50-59, and $4,000 for individuals over age 60, up to a maximum credit of $14,000 per household. The credit would apply for 2020 and subsequent years, and increase every year by general inflation (i.e., CPI) plus one percent. Excess credit amounts can be deposited in individuals’ Health Savings Accounts.

The credit may be used for any individual policy sold within a state (although apparently not a policy purchased across state lines) or unsubsidized COBRA continuation coverage.

Individuals may not use the credit to purchase plans that cover abortions (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion). The credit would be advanceable (i.e., paid before individuals file their taxes), and the Treasury would establish a program to provide credit payments directly to health insurers.

Individuals eligible for or participating in employer coverage, Part A of Medicare, Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Tricare, or health care sharing ministries cannot receive the credit; however, veterans eligible for but not enrolled in VA health programs can receive the credit. Only citizens and legal aliens qualify for the credit; individuals with seriously delinquent tax debt can have their credits withheld.

Some conservatives may be concerned that, by creating a new refundable tax credit, the bill would establish another source of entitlement spending at a time when our nation already faces significant fiscal difficulties.

Cap on Employer-Provided Health Coverage:                    Establishes a cap on the current exclusion for employer-provided health coverage, making any amounts received above the cap taxable to the employee. Sets the cap, which includes both employer and employee contributions, at the 90th percentile of group (i.e., employer) plans for 2019. In 2020 and subsequent years, indexes the cap to general inflation (i.e., CPI) plus two percentage points. Also applies the cap on coverage to include self-employed individuals taking an above-the-line deduction on their tax returns. While the level of the cap would be set in the year 2019, the cap itself would take effect in 2020 and subsequent tax years.

Excludes contributions to Health Savings Accounts and Archer Medical Savings Accounts, as well as long-term care, dental, and vision insurance policies, from the cap. Exempts health insurance benefits for law enforcement, fire department, and out-of-hospital emergency medical personnel from the cap.

Some conservatives may be concerned that this provision raises taxes. Economists on all sides of the political spectrum generally agree that an unlimited exclusion for employer-provided health insurance encourages over-consumption of health insurance, and therefore health care. However, there are other ways to reform the tax treatment of health insurance without raising taxes on net. Given the ready availability of other options, some conservatives may be concerned that the bill repeals all the Obamacare tax increases, only to replace them with other tax hikes.

Health Savings Accounts:  Increases contribution limits to HSAs, raising them from the current $3,400 for individuals and $6,750 for families in 2017 to the out-of-pocket maximum amounts (currently $6,550 for an individual and $13,100 for a family), effective January 2018. Allows both spouses to make catch-up contributions to the same Health Savings Account. Permits individuals who take up to 60 days to establish an HSA upon enrolling in HSA-eligible coverage to be reimbursed from their account for medical expenses.

Abortion Coverage:             Clarifies that firms receiving the small business tax credit may not use that credit to purchase plans that cover abortion (although they can purchase separate plans that cover abortion).

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of House Republicans’ Obamacare “Replacement”

On Thursday, prior to lawmakers returning home for the President’s Day recess, House leadership gave them a brief outline of policies likely to be included in “repeal-and-replace” legislation introduced next month. While this “full replace” strategy likely will encounter additional obstacles and delays, as I outlined last week, it’s worth analyzing the specific policies being proposed at this point, to see how they shape up.

The Good

State Innovation Grants: While sounding new to some, this concept was first introduced in 2009 in the House Republican alternative to Obamacare, and later reprised in an Obamacare alternative introduced by America Next and then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) that I helped draft. The program provides federal incentives for states to reform their insurance markets in ways that will lower premiums, expand access, and ensure coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions (i.e., high-risk pools).

While on the one hand it’s regrettable that the federal government essentially has to bribe states to eliminate the benefit mandates that drive up insurance premiums, the Congressional Budget Office in 2009 concluded that the Innovation Grant incentives would work, helping drive down premiums by as much as 10 percent. Staff for Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), then ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, did yeoman’s work compiling this proposal back then, and House Republicans are smart to revive the concept.

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs): In recent years, health savings accounts have become a popular and effective way to reduce health care costs. In addition to making other minor reforms, the Republican plan would roughly double HSA contribution limits. This change would allow individuals—particularly those just establishing HSAs—to save more for medical expenses, while not sparking the over-consumption that an unlimited HSA might incentivize.

Medicaid: With respect to Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to the able-bodied, the House document says expansion states “could continue to receive enhanced federal payments for currently enrolled beneficiaries for a limited period of time” (emphasis mine). This language would effectively adopt my earlier proposal of freezing enrollment in the Medicaid expansion—perhaps the most effective way to unwind the Obamacare entitlement. Unfortunately, other changes (described below) might have the opposite effect.

The Bad (or Questionable)

More Obamacare? In discussing the transition period between Obamacare and the new regime they seek to establish, the House document states “the Obamacare subsidies are adjusted slightly [sic] to provide additional assistance for younger Americans and reduce the over-subsidization older Americans are receiving.”

This language could mean one of two things: Either 1) a change in Obamacare’s age-rating bands—which currently prohibit insurers from charging older Americans more than three times what younger Americans pay—to allow greater variability and flexibility for insurers; or 2) some change in the subsidy regime that would have the same effects as 1).

Regardless, it seems questionable whether the answer to Obamacare’s problems lies in either more spending or another federal regulation that would only slightly ease the current micromanagement of health insurers. The focus should remain on repealing Obamacare, not fixing Obamacare.

Medicaid: At minimum, the House paper leaves more questions than it answers here, providing few specifics on the formula for a reformed Medicaid program (either block grants or per capita caps) in the future. In last year’s Better Way plan, House leadership proposed creating a “base year” for a reformed program of 2016, but that specific policy point did not appear in last week’s document.

Since release of the Better Way plan last year, new data from actuarial reports on Medicaid have shown how states that expanded Medicaid have “gamed the system” to increase their federal funding. Specifically, participants in the Medicaid expansion have averaged 14 percent higher costs than non-expansion enrollees—exactly the opposite of the actuary’s projections prior to the law’s implementation. That’s because states have used the prospect of the up to 100 percent federal match for expansion populations—so-called “free money” from Washington—to pay higher physician reimbursements.

Any reformed Medicaid formula must not disadvantage states that declined Obamacare dollars to expand the program to the able-bodied. However, because spending was higher for expansion enrollees than for non-expansion enrollees last year, using 2016 as the “base year” for Medicaid reform would do just that. Congressional staff are aware of the updated data showing how Medicaid expansion states have abused the Obamacare reimbursement formulae. But it will require both careful planning and a public vetting of the details to determine whether the funding formulae for Medicaid reform will perpetuate the current inequities.

Health Savings Accounts: While increasing contribution limits will increase HSA take-up, one other change should take precedence: Allowing HSA funds to be used to pay for insurance premiums, which is currently prohibited in most cases (except for COBRA continuation coverage, during periods of unemployment, and other limited circumstances). Allowing account funds to pay for premiums would represent a quantum leap forward in consumer-driven health care, by creating a defined-contribution model: Small businesses that cannot afford to purchase coverage for their workers can make predictable HSA contributions, which employees can then use to pay for health expenses, or to fund their own health insurance.

It is possible that the budgetary cost of ending the restrictions on premium payments prompted leadership staff to work instead on increasing the contribution limits. But the former should come before the latter, for multiple reasons: Allowing people to use account funds to pay premiums will create greater political movement to increase the contribution limits, while increasing the contribution limits now will make ending the premium restrictions more costly later. Both are positive reforms, but for multiple strategic reasons, ending the premium payment restrictions should take precedence over increasing the contribution limits.

The Ugly

New Entitlement (Funded by New Taxes?): The linchpin of the House plan lies in its system of advanceable, refundable tax credits—a new program of spending that would see the federal government writing “refund” checks to individuals with no income tax liability. However, the proposal likely will not receive a favorable score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) about the number of individuals covered by health insurance, at least compared to Obamacare.

That said, the new government spending will impose a fiscal cost. While Republicans did not mention a “pay-for” in their policy brief, press reports suggest the party may raise taxes to fund the new spending. Specifically, House Republicans are looking at capping the current exclusion for employer-provided health coverage, a policy included in their Better Way plan last year.

Most economists agree that the tax treatment of employer-provided health insurance encourages over-consumption of health insurance and health care. However, there are better ways to reform the tax treatment of health coverage—and provide parity between employer-sponsored and individually purchased insurance—without raising taxes overall. The American people do not support repealing Obamacare’s revenue increases only to replace them with other tax hikes.

Therein lies the great disappointment of the House proposal. While in 2008 Barack Obama campaigned for his plan by saying it would reduce health-care costs, he governed with a singular focus on increasing the number of individuals with health insurance, and in so doing raised costs and premiums for millions of Americans. Going down the same failed Obamacare approach of more taxes and more spending will not lower health costs. That, and not repealing and replacing Obamacare’s taxes and spending, should be House Republicans’ ultimate objective.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

Three Concerns with Rand Paul’s Obamacare Replacement Act

On Wednesday, Politico reported that the House Freedom Caucus, an influential group of House conservatives, was considering whether to give its official endorsement to Sen. Rand Paul’s Obamacare Replacement Act (S. 222). The report indicated that word from the Freedom Caucus about an endorsement could come as soon as next week.

To this conservative health policy analyst, this development raises some serious concerns. Although not as objectionable as the Collins-Cassidy Patient Freedom Act, Paul’s legislation contains several features that, if widely embraced by conservatives, could lead to strategic and policy missteps going forward.

1. Doesn’t Repeal Obamacare

While the Paul bill provides an alternative vision for health care, it does not repeal most of Obamacare. The bill does repeal virtually all of the law’s major mandates: the individual and employer mandates to obtain insurance, the guaranteed issue and community rating regulations, the essential health benefits, and other various insurance mandates that have raised premiums.

However, the bill does not repeal either of Obamacare’s new entitlements—the subsidies for exchange health insurance, and the massive Medicaid expansion to the able-bodied—leaving in place nearly $2 trillion in spending over the coming decade. Likewise, the bill does not repeal any of the Obamacare taxes used to fund that spending, except those associated with the individual and employer mandates.

Paul’s office may view the bill as a successor and complement to the reconciliation bill that Congress passed, but President Obama vetoed, in 2016. That bill would have repealed the law’s entitlements (after two years), and its tax increases (effective immediately), but not its regulations. Paul’s office might argue that his bill repeals the critical portions of Obamacare not included in last year’s reconciliation bill—the major insurance regulations—while providing a replacement vision to go beyond repeal.

But that position assumes last year’s reconciliation bill will be the starting point for this year’s discussion—and it may not be. Politico reported Tuesday evening that Republicans were having difficulty figuring out how to square Medicaid reform with Obamacare’s massive Medicaid expansion. Likewise, some Republicans have discussed not repealing the law’s tax hikes. On these controversies, the Paul bill, by omitting any provisions relating to the entitlement expansions and tax increases, contains a deafening silence.

Paul’s bill repealed the individual and employer mandates, even though last year’s reconciliation measure also effectively repealed them. Why didn’t his bill repeal all the other tax hikes and spending increases as well? Is it because Paul, whose home state expanded Medicaid to the able-bodied under Obamacare, wants to avoid taking a position on whether to keep that expansion?

2. Tax Credit Slippery Slope

The Paul bill does provide tax credits for health coverage, but largely of the non-refundable kind, an arcane but important difference. Paul’s bill provides a $5,000 tax credit to individuals who contribute to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), but only to the extent such individuals have income tax liability. The Paul bill does include a refundable tax credit for health insurance premiums, but the refundable portion of the credit only applies up to the limit of an individual’s payroll taxes paid.

Many Republican health reform plans would offer refundable tax credits to individuals in excess of tax liabilities, which represents pure welfare/outlay spending—the government issuing “refunds” to people with no net income or payroll tax obligations. By contrast, the Paul bill would ensure that credits only apply to individuals with actual payroll and income tax obligations.

However, this critically important distinction will likely be lost on many members of the press—and perhaps members of the Freedom Caucus themselves. “House Freedom Caucus Endorses Tax Credits” will blare the headlines. Having endorsed tax credits once, the pressure on Freedom Caucus members to then go further and endorse the House leadership plan for refundable tax credits will be immense. Put simply, the slippery slope to endorsing a major spending package in the form of refundable tax credits starts with the Paul bill.

3. Budget-Busting Health Care Giveaways

While the Paul bill includes no outlay spending—its incentives all come via tax cuts—those incentives are numerous, and costly. The legislation would supplement the current, uncapped exclusion on employer-provided health insurance with a new, uncapped deduction for individual-provided health insurance. It would eliminate contribution limits to HSAs, and introduce a new federal subsidy (via the tax credits) of up to $5,000 for HSA contributions.

Apart from the fiscal implications of the tax incentives, are these tax cuts smart tax cuts? Evidence suggests they may not be. Economists on all sides of the political spectrum believe that the current uncapped exclusion for employer-provided health insurance encourages over-consumption of health insurance, and thus health care. Rather than reining in this tax incentive as one element of pro-growth tax reform, Paul’s bill goes in the other direction, creating two new uncapped tax incentives for health insurance.

As a medical doctor, Paul has shown little inclination to rein in health care spending. He voted for budget-busting Medicare physician payment legislation in 2015 that raised the deficit by more than $140 billion in its first decade alone, while failing to solve the long-term problems it purported to address. He has also previously proposed budgets with minimal reductions in Medicare spending, although he has introduced more substantive reforms in recent years.

But with health care already consuming nearly one-fifth of our economy, and our national debt approaching $20 trillion, does the solution to these problems really lie in creating new, uncapped incentives for tax-free spending on health care and health insurance?

Therein lies but one of the Paul bill’s problems. While ostensibly promoting market-oriented solutions, the legislation contains several strategic trip-wires that could contaminate any attempt to repeal Obamacare, or enact a conservative alternative. Members of Congress should tread cautiously.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.

On Health Care, It’s the Costs, Stupid

At his first post-election press conference Monday, President Obama attempted to sound gracious on the topic of repealing his signature health law, while simultaneously laying down a clear policy gauntlet: the number of Americans with insurance coverage under a Republican replacement.

If they can come up with something better that actually works, a year or two after they’ve replaced [Obamacare] with their own plan, and 25 million people have health insurance and it’s cheaper and better and running smoothly, I’ll be the first one to say that’s great. Congratulations (emphasis mine).

In other words, as I noted last month, the president will happily support others’ legislation—so long as it accomplishes exactly what he wants. Ironically enough, when campaigning for the presidency eight years ago, Barack Obama campaigned on one number, but one that had nothing to do with the number of Americans with health coverage. It was $2,500—the premium reduction he promised to the average family.

While Obama said his law would reduce health costs—Americans’ top health-care concern—the media has yet to focus either on how his law singularly failed to keep that promise, or how a Republican alternative would affect premium levels. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the media has thus far viewed the debate on an Obamacare replacement entirely through one liberal policy frame: How many people have health insurance cards.

Obamaspeak: ‘Lower Premiums’ Means Massive Increases

President Obama’s 2016 focus on how many people have health insurance coverage stands in stark contrast to candidate Obama, circa 2008. In the Democratic primaries against Hillary Clinton, he famously opposed an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, because “the reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it; it’s because they can’t afford it.”

While then-senator Obama did not promise to achieve a certain level of health insurance coverage, he did make a very specific promise to lower premiums. As this video shows, Obama promised—over and over and over again—that his health-care plan would lower premiums by an average of $2,500 per family. Note also that Obama promised to “lower” and “cut” premiums. That means he didn’t promise that premiums would rise by slightly less than predicted—he pledged to reduce them in absolute terms.

On any count, President Obama’s pledge lies in tatters. Since he signed Obamacare in 2010, the average employer-sponsored health plan has risen by more than $3,300 per family—from $13,770 in 2010 to $18,142 this year. Obamacare’s massive benefit mandates raised the average premium for individually purchased coverage by about 40 percent overnight, as the main provisions of the law took effect in 2014. Premiums are also set to spike on Obamacare exchanges again, with an average of another 25 percent rise for the plan year beginning January 1.

Cost Is Voters’ Top Concern

In reality, Obamacare stands as living proof that affordability matters most for health care and health insurance. While the Medicaid rolls have exploded far beyond most states’ original estimates—perhaps because the program charges no premiums to most beneficiaries—enrollment in exchange plans remains far below projections. Obamacare’s benefit mandates have so raised the cost of coverage that everyone but individuals qualifying for the richest subsidies has stayed away from the exchanges in droves.

Polling data also speaks to voters’ concern about reducing health costs. A survey conducted for America Next in February 2014 (while I served as America Next’s policy director) reveals that voters judge costs as a larger concern than universal coverage by a more than two-to one margin. In addition, by 13 percentage points voters prefer a system that lowers costs but does not guarantee coverage over a system that guarantees health insurance but increases costs.

The Media Is Out of Touch with Americans

In covering a post-Obamacare universe, most media stories in the past week have focused solely on the number of individuals with health insurance. That’s one key metric, but so are whether health insurance results in access to actual health care, whether coverage improves health outcomes, and the extent to which individuals value health insurance over other goods.

Voters care most about reducing the underlying cost of health care. Only lowering costs, not creating new ways for the federal government to subsidize them, will make health care fiscally sustainable in the long term, while increasing the number of Americans with health coverage. That’s the prime metric for judging Obamacare, a metric by which, according to its eponymous creator, it has fallen short, and the metric for judging Republican proposals to replace it.

This post was originally published at The Federalist.